Neuroepigenetics researcher Isabelle Mansuy describes how the effects of trauma can pass from generation to generation.

Isabelle Mansuy’s neuroepigenetics lab researches the impact of life experiences and environmental factors on mental health, exploring if these impacts can be passed on to descendants.

Epigenetic inheritance, she says, is not confined to diets and exposure of factors such as like endocrine disruptors or environmental pollutants. All of these can modify our body and have effects in our offspring. But Mansuy, who is based at the University of Zurich and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, also asks if trauma modifies not only our brains, but also our reproductive systems.

There is still a lot of work needed, she adds, but the possibility that depression or borderline personality disorder might be something inherited from parents would be important for patients and clinicians to understand.

Mansuy’s lab seeks to expose animals prenatally or after birth to conditions which mimic human stress. Her collaborators also provide access to blood and saliva samples from people exposed to childhood trauma, and medical students who are undergoing work placements in emergency rooms.

This is the penultimate episode in Tales from the Synapse, a 12-part podcast series produced in partnership with Nature Neuroscience and introduced by Jean Mary Zarate, a senior editor at the journal. The series features brain scientists from all over the world who talk about their career journeys, collaborations and the societal impact of their research.