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Inheriting Anxiety

June 6, 2012

The great-grandchildren of rats given a fungicide were more stressed-out and anxious than other rats.



Inheriting stress…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Imagine if a chemical your great-grandmother was exposed to could affect your behavior now. It sounds implausible, but researchers David Crews of the University of Texas at Austin and Michael Skinner of Washington State University report that rats whose great-grandmothers were given a common fungicide during pregnancy were more sensitive to stress and less likely to take risks. Skinner explains.

MICHAEL SKINNER (Washington State University):

When we looked at what was causing this, we found dramatic differences in what genes were turned on and off in the different brain regions.


He says this was due to a process known as DNA methylation, where carbon and hydrogen atoms bond to an animal’s genetic material. When its cell lines are passed on to future generations, gene expression can be altered in the descendents. Further research will investigate whether certain behavioral disorders in humans result in part from such generational effects. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

The chemical structure of vinclozolin, a common fungicide. When it was given to female rats, their great-grandchildren exhibited greater anxiety and less risk-taking than controls. (Wikimedia Commons/Edgar181)