Although exposure to stressors is known to increase disease susceptibility and accelerate ageing, evidence is accumulating that these effects can span more than one generation. Stressors experienced by parents have been reported to negatively influence the longevity of their offspring and even grand offspring. The mechanisms underlying these long-term, cross-generational effects are still poorly understood, but we argue here that telomere dynamics are likely to play an important role. In this review, we begin by surveying the current connections between stress and telomere dynamics. We then lay out the evidence that exposure to stressors in the parental generation influences telomere dynamics in offspring and potentially subsequent generations. We focus on evidence in mammalian and avian studies and highlight several promising areas where our understanding is incomplete and future investigations are critically needed. Understanding the mechanisms that link stress exposure across generations requires interdisciplinary studies and is essential to both the biomedical community seeking to understand how early adversity impacts health span and evolutionary ecologists interested in how changing environmental conditions are likely to influence age-structured population dynamics.
Keywords: ageing; lifespan; parental effects; senescence; telomere dynamics.
© 2015 The Author(s).