This is fascinating and if applicable to humans (and why wouldn't it be?) has enormous implications. Cocaine not doing enough for you lately – talk to daddy.
Cocaine-using rat fathers pass epigenetic changes on to their sons that make them resistant to coke addiction.
By Ed Yong
If a rat becomes addicted to cocaine, you might expect that its offspring would also be predisposed to using the drug, especially since drug addiction is heritable and tends to run in families. Instead, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania (U Penn) have shown that the sons of cocaine-using male rats find the drug less rewarding, and are more likely to resist addiction.
The findings, published today (16 December) in Nature Neuroscience, “were the exact opposite of what we expected,” said U Penn’s Chris Pierce, who led the study. His team showed that cocaine use leads to epigenetic changes in a rat’s brain that boost the levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These same changes are seen in the sperm of drug-taking rodent parents, and can be passed on to their male pups.
Although it is not yet clear if the results apply to humans, Pierce said in a statement that “the implications of findings such as these for the descendants of cocaine addicts are profound.”
“It’s very interesting, but also very scary,” said Paul Kenny, a neuroscientist at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida who was not involved in the study. “When you think about behavior, you think about your own behavior, not the fact that you could influence the behavior of your offspring through epigenetics. If other people find similar effects, and it’s a robust phenomenon that equally translates into humans, it’s something people need to be aware of.” (Read more about the possible heredity of epigenetic changes in The Scientist’s recent feature, “Lamarck and the Missing Lnc.”)
Keep reading: Inherited Resistance to Cocaine | The Scientist Magazine®.