Transmission of trauma from fathers to sons

Transmission of trauma from fathers to sons

The effects of paternal trauma on offspring health remain largely unclear. Researchers examined whether the trauma endured by survivors of Confederate prisoner of war (POW) camps during the US Civil War was associated with the longevity of their children born after the war. POWs captured between July 1863 and July 1864, during which time prisoner exchanges were halted, experienced particularly harsh conditions as POW camps grew increasingly crowded.

Among nearly 20,000 children born to Union Army veterans after 1866 and who survived to at least age 45, sons of ex-POWs imprisoned during the nonexchange period were 1.1 times more likely to die than the sons of either non-POWs or ex-POWs from the exchange period.

Daughters’ mortality was not associated with paternal POW status. The association between mortality and paternal POW status was greatest for sons born in the second quarter of the year, whereas there was no such association for sons born in the fourth quarter. Effects of the quarter of birth are thought to reflect seasonal variations in maternal nutrient intake.

According to the authors, the results suggest that paternal trauma may be transmitted to sons via an epigenetic mechanism, which adequate maternal nutrition could counteract.