24th June 2013 | by MFC Team
Stress may damage a man’s sperm and lead to negative fetal outcomes
Previous research has explored how environmental factors such as chronic stress and drug use during a mother’s pregnancy can increase her child’s risk of various diseases and negatively affect the child’s neurological development. However, a recent study with male mice, has explored how the male’s levels of chronic stress may affect offspring. Prior to allowing them to breed, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine exposed male mice to six weeks of chronic stress (e.g., being moved to another cage, being exposed to the odour of a predator). The results suggest that stress exposure may have caused genetic changes in the sperm of the stressed mice – which researchers believe may result in brain-related changes among their offspring. Specifically, mice exposed to chronic stress fathered offspring who had “blunted” stress hormone levels.
To put this into human perspective, similar blunted reactions to stress have been associated with severe mental health challenges. Says lead researcher Professor Tracy Bale,
“It didn’t matter if dads were going through puberty or in adulthood when stressed before they mated. We’ve shown here for the first time that stress can produce long-term changes to sperm that reprogram offspring brains. These findings suggest one way in which paternal-stress exposure may be linked to such neuropsychiatric diseases…Whether such diminished stress reactivity would be detrimental or beneficial to offspring likely depends on the environment into which they were born, as well as genetic background factors.”
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To read the study abstract, click here.