Can stressed dads hurt brain development in kids?
A man's sperm is very fragile, subject to the influences of his life, and that may have a lasting influence on the mental health of his offspring. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania found that if a dad is experiencing high levels of stress, it can be passed on through his sperm, which could result in his sons and daughters developing a blunted reaction to stress. And that can lead to mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
A team of Penn neuroscientists studied the effects of stress on preadolescent and adult male mice and determined that stress induced an epigenetic mark in the sperm of the fathers, which reprogrammed the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the brain. This area governs a person's response to stress. The study found that if a Papa Mouse is stressed, children are more likely to have an abnormally low reactivity to stress, which indicates the child's inability to adapt to a changing environment. The kid's stress response becomes irregular, which could result in mental health disorders.
In order to examine the effects of paternal stress, the male mice were exposed to six weeks of chronic stress, before breeding, either throughout puberty or only in adulthood. Examples of stress include sudden move to another cage, predator oder (fox urine, for example), noise, or a foreign object in the cage.
Male mice are ideal for such an experiment because they do not participate in offspring rearing, meaning any external factors outside of germ-cell formation are essentially eliminated.
The scientists at Penn hope to next study other aspects of sperm, which can lead to using biomarkers to predict diseases.