Maternal stress can have long-term effects on neurodevelopment that can influence offspring performance and population evolutionary trajectories. To examine the mechanistic basis for these neurodevelopmental effects of maternal stress, we used RNA-seq to assess differential gene expression across the brain transcriptome of adult male and female threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) from stressed and unstressed mothers. We identified sexually divergent effects of maternal stress on the brain transcriptome. In males, genes that were upregulated by maternal stress were enriched for processes involved in synaptic function and organization and steroid hormone-mediated signalling pathways, whereas in females genes that were upregulated by maternal stress were enriched for processes involved in protein translation and metabolic functions. The expression of several genes involved in the hypothalamic–pituitary–interrenal response to stress and epigenetic processes such as the regulation of DNA methylation patterns and miRNAs increased in males and not in females. These data suggest that maternal stress has markedly different effects on cellular pathways in the brains of male and female offspring of mothers that are exposed to stress, which could have important implications when assessing the long-term ecological and evolutionary impacts of stress across generations.
- Received August 4, 2016.
- Accepted September 5, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.