Transmission of Distress Across Generations

Peter ForsterBasic Science, Other Psychiatric Disorders, Psychobiology Leave a Comment

Transmission of Distress Across Generations Based on Epigenetic Changes

Researchers looking at victims of severe trauma, such as concentration camp survivors, have long known that the effects of these events are transmitted in some fashion to the children and even the children’s children. The mechanism of this transmission has usually been assumed to be based on changes in parenting behavior due to PTSD in the parents and perhaps milder changes in parenting behavior in their children when they become parents.

 A new study published in translational psychiatry suggests a different mechanism. The study found that domestic violence during grandmothers’ pregnancies affects their grandchildren’s DNA methylation.

This is a first-of-its-kind study looking at how severe stress (from domestic violence) during pregnancy affected three generations.

The study focused on whether experiences of serious violence during women’s pregnancies might affect DNA methylation patterns in their grandchildren.

The genome-wide methylation studies showed five epigenetic sites in grandchildren significantly associated with pregnancy-associated CDV in grandmothers; methylation could be elevated or lower compared with levels in grandchildren of nonexposed women. Two genes were associated with circulatory system processes and congenital abnormalities; one was linked to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.


Serpeloni F et al. Grandmaternal stress during pregnancy and DNA methylation of the third generation: An epigenome-wide association study. Transl Psychiatry 2017 Aug 157:e1202