Exposure to psychological trauma is a strong risk factor for several debilitating disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Besides the impact on mental well-being and behavior in the exposed individuals, it has been suggested that psychological trauma can affect the biology of the individuals, and even have biological and behavioral consequences on the offspring of exposed individuals. While knowledge of possible epigenetic underpinnings of the association between exposure to trauma and risk of PTSD has been discussed in several reviews, it remains to be established whether trauma-induced epigenetic modifications can be passed from traumatized individuals to subsequent generations of offspring. The aim of this paper is to review the emerging literature on evidence of transgenerational inheritance due to trauma exposure on the epigenetic mechanism of DNA methylation in humans. Our review found an accumulating amount of evidence of an enduring effect of trauma exposure to be passed to offspring transgenerationally via the epigenetic inheritance mechanism of DNA methylation alterations and has the capacity to change the expression of genes and the metabolome. This manuscript summarizes and critically reviews the relevant original human studies in this area. Thus, it provides an overview of where we stand, and a clearer vision of where we should go in terms of future research directions.
Keywords: DNA methylation; epigenomics; post-traumatic stress disorder; prevention; psychological trauma; transgenerational effect; transgenerational inheritance; treatment.