Two opposing processes determine how maternal stress affects offspring growth in different developmental phases
A new comparative analysis across mammals brings order to previously ambiguous results on the effects that maternal stress has on the developing offspring. Different studies (often on the same species) have reported that early adversity enhances, hampers, or has no effect on offspring development and performance.
Mit zunehmender Unabhängigkeit nehmen auch die Effekte von mütterlichem Stress auf den Nachwuchs ab, wenn dieser nur spät in der Schwangerschaft auftrat.
Foto: Kittisak Srithorn
Researchers from the German Primate Center and Universities of Göttingen and New Mexico have now proposed a hypothesis that largely predicts such highly variable patterns in the growth rates of disadvantaged offspring across 719 studies on 21 mammal species.
“The idea is that prenatal stress affects offspring in two different ways depending on the timing of the stressor during pregnancy – yielding different outcomes before birth, after birth, and after weaning” says Andreas Berghänel, the lead author of the study. The study was published in the journal PNAS.
For example, prenatal maternal stress late in gestation causes mothers to invest less energy in their unborn offspring, which leads to slower intrauterine and early postnatal growth rates. Once offspring have reached nutritional independence, however, they are no longer affected directly by their mother’s provisioning, and consequently grow at the same rate as non-disadvantaged offspring. Thus, maternal stress late in gestation leads to slow growth during dependent phases and unchanged growth later.
By contrast, prenatal maternal stress early in gestation causes the fetus to be entirely reprogrammed to deal with a reduced life expectancy. To “make the best of a bad job”, the early challenged offspring switches to an accelerated pace of life and grows and matures faster than unchallenged offspring to ensure that it reproduces before it dies. Once set on the fast track, the offspring under early prenatal maternal stress remain on this trajectory even after weaning and therefore overshoot the usual body size for age throughout development.
In combination, an infant’s acceleration of their developmental processes together with a deceleration due to reduced maternal investment could then cancel each other out during phases of intense maternal investment (gestation and lactation). It is not until the infant is nutritionally independent that the programming effects become clear. This new comparative study finds all of these predictions are supported in a large sample of studies that each measured the effects of prenatal stress on offspring size and growth compared to an unchallenged control group.
All stressors seem to have the same effect, and the results are stable across a variety of experiments. Whether mothers were exposed directly to stressors (via food restriction or other adversities) or were experimentally manipulated to increase their “stress hormones” (for example, cortisol), the patterns of offspring growth across developmental stage relative to the timing of the stressor remained the same.
Previous evolutionary hypotheses about prenatal maternal stress effects also invoked the idea of fetal programming, but most assumed that any fitness benefits to the offspring were the result of enhanced environmental matching between the mother and offspring rather than an offspring strategy specifically to counteract the deleterious effects of reduced maternal investment.
These new results may bear some translational value for understanding why girls reach menarche earlier in poorer neighborhoods, why teenage pregnancies are more frequent in disadvantaged families, and why adverse conditions during early development (particularly in formula-fed children) often lead to obesity and other metabolic health problems later in life.
Berghänel A, Heistermann M, Schülke O, Ostner J (2017): Prenatal stress accelerates offspring growth to compensate for reduced maternal investment across mammals. PNAS 2017
Contact and notes for editors
Dr. Oliver Schülke
Tel.: +49 551 39 399 26
Luzie Almenräder (Kommunikation)
Tel: +49 551 3851-424
The German Primate Center (DPZ) – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research conducts biological and biomedical research on and with primates in the fields of infection research, neuroscience and primate biology. In addition, it operates four field stations in the tropics and is a reference and service center for all aspects of primate research. The DPZ is one of the 91 research and infrastructure institutes of the Leibniz Association in Germany.
Printable pictures and captions are available in our media library: http://medien.dpz.eu/webgate/keyword.html?currentContainerId=4141
This press release with additional information is also to be found on our website: http://www.dpz.eu/de/startseite.html
Dr. Susanne Diederich | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
During HIV infection, antibody can block B cells from fighting pathogens
14.08.2018 | NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
First study on physical properties of giant cancer cells may inform new treatments
14.08.2018 | Brown University
Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.
When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...
Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.
Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....
Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.
Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...
Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur
What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...
The quality of materials often depends on the manufacturing process. In casting and welding, for example, the rate at which melts solidify and the resulting microstructure of the alloy is important. With metallic foams as well, it depends on exactly how the foaming process takes place. To understand these processes fully requires fast sensing capability. The fastest 3D tomographic images to date have now been achieved at the BESSY II X-ray source operated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.
Dr. Francisco Garcia-Moreno and his team have designed a turntable that rotates ultra-stably about its axis at a constant rotational speed. This really depends...
08.08.2018 | Event News
27.07.2018 | Event News
25.07.2018 | Event News
14.08.2018 | Information Technology
14.08.2018 | Life Sciences
14.08.2018 | Life Sciences