Reaching Others University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
Skip to Content
Official UB news and information for the media

Depressed Fathers Pass Depression to Offspring but the Cause is Mostly Behavioral, Not Genetic, or Epigenetic, Study Says

Release Date: November 16, 2011

Related Multimedia

The preliminary study by UB's Dietz shows that depression in families is passed on primarily through behavioral interactions, not genetics.

Summary:

-- A Society of Neuroscience presentation on Nov. 16 will highlight University at Buffalo research on how depression is passed along from fathers to offspring.

--A key goal of the research was to determine whether or not epigenetics -- changes in an organism caused by something other than changes in DNA sequence -- might play a role in inheriting depression.

-- Preliminary findings indicate that depression in families is passed on to the next generation primarily through behavioral interactions between parents and offspring, not through genetics.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One of the first studies to examine, in animals, how depression in fathers may impact their offspring will be presented by the study's researchers from the University at Buffalo and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine at 10 a.m. on Nov. 16 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

A key purpose of the experiments was to determine if depressive-like behaviors in mice could be passed from one generation to the next. The authors also attempted to examine if epigenetics -- changes in the genome of an organism caused by something other than changes in DNA sequences -- might play a role in inheriting depression.

"It appears from our results that depression is passed on not through sperm primarily but through behavioral mechanisms," says David Dietz, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and co-author of the study.

The researchers used a rodent model of depression, studying male mice who had been "socially defeated" through exposure to chronic stress.

When those males bred offspring through natural methods, their offspring did show a susceptibility to exhibit depressive symptoms, such as social avoidance.

However, when offspring were bred from these fathers through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the fathers had no direct contact with the offspring or with the mothers, the susceptibility of the offspring to show depressive-like symptoms was greatly reduced.

"With the offspring of the IVF experiments, you definitely lost the very robust transmission of depression-like behaviors that we saw in the group bred through natural methods," says Dietz.

The research was previously published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry by Dietz and his co-authors from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact Information

Ellen Goldbaum
Senior Editor, Medicine
Tel: 716-645-4605
goldbaum@buffalo.edu
Twitter: @egoldbaum