Male Experience, Female Investment and Offspring Anxiety Behavior: Where Father’s Nature Meets Mother’s Nurture
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Mammals, like most species, change in physiology and behavior over the course of their lifespan. Lifetime experiences and environmental exposures can potentially alter the developmental trajectory of their offspring, not only by inherited genetic variation in the germline, but also through a change in parental behavior and, in turn, an altered nurturing environment. Such developmental variation is constrained by the effects of complex genotype by environment interactions on the spatial and temporal expression and function of genes influencing specific phenotypic traits. The question then concerns the exact social and biological mechanisms underlying the transfer of one generations experiences to the next. Innovative and novel research has suggested that the germline is not the only mode of inheritance and that previous generations may pass information regulating somatic gene expression, ultimately shaping our ability to respond and interact with the environment. In this thesis, I describe the impact of paternal (male) stress and high fat diet exposure, prior to conception, on mate preference, maternal care as well as growth and the development of stress-related behaviors in the offspring. I also examine the effect of housing quality on maternal care, and how these effects interact with preconception paternal experience. Offspring behavior and stress-related gene regulation and expression were altered by both paternal experiences and the quality of maternal care, suggesting that paternal exposures and maternal rearing conditions influence maternal behavior and the development of individual differences in stress responses in offspring. Overall, the work in this dissertation provides further evidence that development begins before conception and that gene regulation and predisposition are influenced by parental experiences.