Stress can affect every aspect of life and can even influence future generations. Even if stress does not change the DNA sequence, the stress effect can be passed to the next generation. This seems impossible since there is no physical change in the nucleotide base sequence of the DNA. The effects are seen in the tightly wound portion of the DNA, known as heterochromatin. Heterochromatin does not usually contain active genes and is passed from generation to generation. ATF-2 is a gene that is vital to the formation of heterochromatin. When the body is exposed to environmental stress, inflammatory cytokines, and reactive oxygen species, stress-activated protein kinases are released. These kinases alter the ATF-2 which in turn affects the structure of the heterochromatin. The changes in genomic structure are inherited by the next generation, which means it is possible to pass changes in gene expression without changing the DNA sequence.
The majority of the research involving ATF-2 has been done with fruit flies. Since the ATF-2 gene is identical to the gene found in humans, scientists expect that similar effects would happen in human DNA. The changes to the structure of heterochromatin could affect basic cellular functions, metabolism, behavior and disease. There are drugs that have been developed to counteract the enzymes that modify ATF-2, but it is important to understand how stress not only affects us psychologically and physiologically, but also future generations.
This is a summary of an article from Science Daily titled, "Effects of Stress Can Be Inherited, and Here's How."