Stress in early life can alter physiology and behavior across the entire lifespan

I’ll quote a few sections of this 2014 summary of 111 studies concerning stress, including the authors’ research:

“The brain is the central organ of stress and adaptation to stressors because it not only perceives what is threatening or potentially threatening and initiates behavioral and physiological responses to those challenges but also is a target of the stressful experiences and the hormones and other mediators of the stress response.

The stress history of parents is a significant factor in the resilience of their offspring.

Environmental stress transduces its effects into lasting changes on physiology and behavior, which can vary even among genetically identical individuals.

Stress in early life can alter physiology and behavior across the entire lifespan.

Structural stress memory is even more apparent with regard to gene expression in stress-sensitive brain regions like the hippocampus.

Individual history is important and that there is a memory of stress history retained by neurons at the cellular level in regions like the hippocampus.

Stress has a number of known effects on epigenetic marks in the brain, producing alterations in DNA methylation and histone modifications in most of the stress-sensitive brain regions examined, including the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex.”


It seemed to be taboo to note that many of the largest detrimental effects of stress occurred during womb-life when the mother provided the environment. The authors instead opted for the politically correct “the stress history of parents” phrase.

The referenced studies had findings relevant to the earliest periods of life, including the authors’ own Figure 1:

“Those organs that show the highest levels of retrotransposon [a repeat element (mobile DNA sequences often involved in mutations) type formed by copy-and-paste mechanisms] activity, such as the brain and placenta, also seem to be both steroidogenic and steroid-sensitive.”

However, Figure 1 was given a beneficial context, and other studies’ findings weren’t mentioned in their contexts of the detrimental effects on the fetuses of mothers who were stressed while pregnant.

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/22/6828.full “Stress and the dynamic genome: Steroids, epigenetics, and the transposome”

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