Epigenetic mechanisms and the transgenerational effects of maternal care

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2008 Jun;29(3):386-97. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2008.03.003. Epub 2008 Mar 28.


The transmission of traits across generations has typically been attributed to the inheritance by offspring of genomic information from parental generations. However, recent evidence suggests that epigenetic mechanisms are capable of mediating this type of transmission. In the case of maternal care, there is evidence for the behavioral transmission of postpartum behavior from mothers to female offspring. The neuroendocrine and molecular mediators of this transmission have been explored in rats and implicate estrogen-oxytocin interactions and the differential methylation of hypothalamic estrogen receptors. These maternal effects can influence multiple aspects of neurobiology and behavior of offspring and this particular mode of inheritance is dynamic in response to environmental variation. In this review, evidence for the generational transmission of maternal care and the mechanisms underlying this transmission will be discussed as will the implications of this inheritance system for offspring development and for the transmission of environmental information from parents to offspring.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Touch / physiology