Faraji, J., Karimi, M., Soltanpour, N. et al. 2018. Intergenerational sex-specific transmission of maternal social experience. Scientific Reports 8, 10529.
The social environment is a major determinant of individual stress response and lifetime health. The present study shows that (1) social enrichment has a significant impact on neuroplasticity and behaviour particularly in females; and (2) social enrichment in females can be transmitted to their unexposed female descendants. Two generations (F0 and F1) of male and female rats raised in standard and social housing conditions were examined for neurohormonal and molecular alterations along with changes in four behavioural modalities. In addition to higher cortical neuronal density and cortical thickness, social experience in mothers reduced hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity in F0 rats and their F1 non-social housing offspring. Only F0 social mothers and their F1 non-social daughters displayed improved novelty-seeking exploratory behaviour and reduced anxiety-related behaviour whereas their motor and cognitive performance remained unchanged. Also, cortical and mRNA measurements in the F1 generation were affected by social experience intergenerationally via the female lineage (mother-to-daughter). These findings indicate that social experience promotes cortical neuroplasticity, neurohormonal and behavioural outcomes, and these changes can be transmitted to the F1 non-social offspring in a sexually dimorphic manner. Thus, a socially stimulating environment may form new biobehavioural phenotypes not only in exposed individuals, but also in their intergenerationally programmed descendants.