Parental Advisory: Maternal and Paternal Stress Can Impact Offspring Neurodevelopment

Biol Psychiatry. 2018 May 15;83(10):886-894. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.10.005. Epub 2017 Oct 13.


Parental stress exposures are implicated in the risk for offspring neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, prompting critical examination of preconception and prenatal periods as vulnerable to environmental insults such as stress. Evidence from human studies and animal models demonstrates the influence that both maternal and paternal stress exposures have in changing the course of offspring brain development. Mechanistic examination of modes of intergenerational transmission of exposure during pregnancy has pointed to alterations in placental signaling, including changes in inflammatory, nutrient-sensing, and epigenetic pathways. Transmission of preconception paternal stress exposure is associated with changes in epigenetic marks in sperm, with a primary focus on the reprogramming of DNA methylation, histone posttranslational modifications, and small noncoding RNAs. In this review, we discuss evidence supporting the important contribution of intergenerational parental stress in offspring neurodevelopment and disease risk, and the currently known epigenetic mechanisms underlying this transmission.

Keywords: Epigenetics; Intergenerational transmission; PTSD; Placenta; Sperm; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / etiology*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*