Transgenerational effects of infantile adversity and enrichment in male and female rats

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To discover whether the accumulation of life's experiences, adverse and enriching, inform, and serve the following generation by inheritance we examine whether stress to a weanling female will influence her future offspring, whether prereproductive enrichment to the dam, or postweaning enrichment to the offspring, can reverse the transgenerational effects of stress, and whether, like adversity, enrichment might have transgenerational effects. Female rats were exposed to stressors when they were 27–29 days old. Half of these females and their controls were then raised in an enriched environment from weaning until mating at 60 days to examine whether preproduction enrichment reverses the effects of preproduction stress on offspring. Half of the offspring of each group were raised in an enriched environment after weaning, to see whether it reverses the effects of preproduction stress and buttresses prereproductive enrichment. Behavior was examined in 625 adult offspring in 16 groups covering all permutations of the experimental variables (preproduction weanling stress (PS), preproduction enrichment (PE), offspring enrichment (OE), sex). Exploration, avoidance learning, startle, and social interaction were tested. Results reveal that very early prereproductive experience in females, adverse or enriching, will transgenerationally influence their future offspring, depending on the behavior tested and sex. Our finding that enrichment, whether to the parent or offspring generation, can ameliorate the transgenerational impact of adversity, has novel implications for the malleability of transgenerational inheritance, and its individual, social, and therapeutic impact. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 54:169-186, 2012.

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