Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance involves the transmission of traits from one generation to the next in the absence of underlying changes in primary DNA structure. In this manner, the experience of the parent can induce genetic modifications in their future offspring and beyond. It has been hypothesized that such rapid inheritance may be adaptive as it essentially prepares future generations for environmental conditions as predicted by parental experience. The mechanisms underlying transgenerational epigenetic inheritance include processes that regulate gene expression, including DNA methylation and expression of small, non-coding RNAs. Our understanding of how these epigenetic modifications are transmitted from one generation to the next remains quite limited.
In the section we are exploring the transgenerational effects of two powerful experiences, stress and exposure to drugs of abuse. Studies involve detailed phenotyping across multiple generations coupled with molecular techniques aimed at uncovering specific epigenetic modifications across development. Additional studies explore the role of both the endocrine and immune systems in mediating these effects.