A new study from the University of Haifa has indicated that rats exposed to stress during early development inherit the effects of that stress to their offspring, largely expressed in behaviour impairments but also characteristics of resilience.
"The similarities between rats and humans raise the question of whether similar effects might transpire in humans; for example, exposure to war or natural disasters might have heritable effects," said Prof. Micah Leshem, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Haifa.
The researchers examined rats because of their resemblance to humans and their rapid rate of development and reproduction, which facilitates cross-generational studies.
The researchers studied 40 female rats weaned at 27 days of age. One group of these females - the control group - was then raised normally in individual cages; the second group was exposed to different stressors; the third was enriched; and the fourth group was both stressed and enriched.
According to the researchers, their study, with other evidence, "suggests that evolution equipped the parent generation to sample its environment, and then, possibly via heritable epigenetic changes, to prepare the next generation to better cope with this environment," added Leshem.
The study has been detailed in the journal Developmental Psychobiology.