Transgenerational Epigenetic Contributions to Stress Responses: Fact or Fiction?

PLoS Biol. 2016 Mar 25;14(3):e1002426. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002426. eCollection 2016 Mar.


There has been increasing interest in the possibility that behavioral experience--in particular, exposure to stress--can be passed on to subsequent generations through heritable epigenetic modifications. The possibility remains highly controversial, however, reflecting the lack of standardized definitions of epigenetics and the limited empirical support for potential mechanisms of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Nonetheless, growing evidence supports a role for epigenetic regulation as a key mechanism underlying lifelong regulation of gene expression that mediates stress vulnerability. This Perspective provides an overview of the multiple meanings of the term epigenetic, discusses the challenges of studying epigenetic contributions to stress susceptibility--and the experimental evidence for and against the existence of such mechanisms--and outlines steps required for future investigations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Depression / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Stress, Psychological*