Genetic mechanisms of parenting

Horm Behav. 2016 Jan;77:211-23. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.06.003. Epub 2015 Jun 23.


This article is part of a Special Issue "Parental Care". The complexities of parenting behavior in humans have been studied for decades. Only recently did we begin to probe the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms underlying these complexities. Much of the research in this field continues to be informed by animal studies, where genetic manipulations and invasive tools allow to peek into and directly observe the brain during the expression of maternal behavior. In humans, studies of adult twins who are parents can suggest dimensions of parenting that might be more amenable to a genetic influence. Candidate gene studies can test specific genes in association with parental behavior based on prior knowledge of those genes' function. Gene-by-environment interactions of a specific kind indicating differential susceptibility to the environment might explain why some parents are more resilient and others are more vulnerable to stressful life events. Epigenetic studies can provide the bridge often necessary to explain why some individuals behave differently from others despite common genetic influences. There is a much-needed expansion in parenting research to include not only mothers as the focus-as has been the case almost exclusively to date-but also fathers, grandparents, and other caregivers.

Keywords: Candidate genes; Differential susceptibility; Epigenetics; Genetic mechanisms; Gene–environment interactions; Intergenerational transmission; Maternal behavior; Parenting; Twin studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Environment*
  • Fathers
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Mothers
  • Parenting*
  • Twins