This article is part of the supplement: Preterm Birth - Interdisciplinary research from the Preterm Birth and Healthy Outcomes Team (PreHOT)

Open Access Research

Transgenerational programming of maternal behaviour by prenatal stress

Isaac D Ward1, Fabíola C R Zucchi1, Jerrah C Robbins1, Erin A Falkenberg1, David M Olson2, Karen Benzies3 and Gerlinde A Metz1*

Author Affiliations

1 Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, 4401 University Drive, Lethbridge, AB, Canada T1K3M4

2 Departments of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Pediatrics and Physiology, University of Alberta, 227 HMRC, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G2S2

3 Faculty of Nursing, University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr. NW, Calgary, AB, Canada T2N1N4

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2013, 13(Suppl 1):S9  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-S1-S9

Published: 31 January 2013


Peripartum events hold the potential to have dramatic effects in the programming of physiology and behaviour of offspring and possibly subsequent generations. Here we have characterized transgenerational changes in rat maternal behaviour as a function of gestational and prenatal stress. Pregnant dams of the parental generation were exposed to stress from days 12-18 (F0-S). Their daughters and grand-daughters were either stressed (F1-SS, F2-SSS) or non-stressed (F1-SN, F2-SNN). Maternal antepartum behaviours were analyzed at a time when pregnant dams usually show a high frequency of tail chasing behaviours. F1-SS, F2-SNN and F2-SSS groups showed a significant reduction in tail chasing behaviours when compared with controls. The effects of multigenerational stress (SSS) slightly exceeded those of transgenerational stress (SNN) and resulted in absence of tail chasing behaviour. These findings suggest that antepartum maternal behaviour in rats is programmed by transgenerational inheritance of stress responses. Thus, altered antepartum maternal behaviour may serve as an indicator of an activated stress response during gestation.