Pre-reproductive parental enriching experiences influence progeny’s developmental trajectories

Debora Cutuli, Erica Berretta, Daniela Laricchiuta, Paola Caporali, Francesca Gelfo, Laura Petrosini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


While the positive effects of environmental enrichment (EE) applied after weaning, in adulthood, during aging, or even in the presence of brain damage have been widely described, the transgenerational effects of pre-reproductive EE have been less examined. And yet, this issue is remarkable given that parental environmental experience may imprint offspring’s phenotype over generations through many epigenetic processes. Interactions between individual and environment take place lifelong even before conception. In fact, the environment pre-reproductively experienced by the mother and/or the father exerts a substantial impact on neural development and motor and cognitive performances of the offspring, even if not directly exposed to social, cognitive, physical and/or motor enrichment. Furthermore, pre-reproductive parental enrichment exerts a transgenerational impact on coping response to stress as well as on the social behavior of the offspring. Among the effects of pre-reproductive parental EE, a potentiation of the maternal care and a decrease in global methylation levels in the frontal cortex and hippocampus of the progeny have been described. Finally, pre-reproductive EE modifies different pathways of neuromodulation in the brain of the offspring (involving brain-derived neurotrophic factor, oxytocin and glucocorticoid receptors). The present review highlights the importance of pre-reproductive parental enrichment in altering the performances not only of animals directly experiencing it, but also of their progeny, thus opening the way to new hypotheses on the inheritance mechanisms of behavioral traits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number254
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Nov 12 2018


  • BDNF
  • Cognition
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Maternal care
  • Motor behavior
  • Oxytocin
  • Rats
  • Stress response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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