Chronic stress during early life, such as exposure to social conflict or deficits in parental care, can have persistent adverse behavioural effects. Offspring in a rodent model of maternal depression and early life stress have increased susceptibility to maternal depression themselves, suggesting a pathway by which maternal stress could be intergenerationally inherited. The overall aim of this study was to explore the genetic regulatory pathways underlying how maternal social stress and reduced care mediates stress-related behavioural changes in offspring across generations. This study investigated a social stress-based rat model of postpartum depression and the intergenerational inheritance of depressed maternal care where F0 (dams exposed to male intruder stress during lactation) and F1 offspring are directly exposed to social stress. RNASeq was used to investigate genomewide transcriptome changes in the hippocampus of F1 and F2 generations. Transcriptome analyses revealed differential expression of 69 genes in the F1 generation and 14 in the F2 between controls vs. social stress differences. Many of these genes were receptors and calciumbinding proteins in the F1 and involved in cellular oxidant detoxification in F2. The present data identify and characterize changes in the neural expression of key genes involved in the regulation of depression maintained between the generations, suggesting a potential neural pathway for the intergenerational transmission of depressed maternal care and maternal anxiety in the CSS model. Further work is needed to understand to what extent these results are due to molecular germline inheritance and/or the social propagation of deficits in maternal care.
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