Moderation of the transgenerational transference of antenatal stress-induced anxiety

Or Burstein, Noam Simon, Yaarit Simchon-Tenenbaum, Moshe Rehavi, Motty Franko, Alon Shamir, Ravid Doron*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Maternal stress has debilitating implications for both mother and child, including increased risk for anxiety. The current COVID-19 pandemic escalates these phenomena, thus, urging the need to further explore and validate feasible therapeutic options. Unlike the protracted nature of clinical studies, animal models could offer swift evidence. Prominent candidates for treatment are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to the mother, that putatively accommodate maternal functioning, and, thereby, also protect the child. However, SSRIs might have deleterious effects. It is important to assess whether SSRIs and other pharmacotherapies can moderate the transference of anxiety by soothing maternal anxiety and to examine the extent of offspring’s exposure to the drugs via lactation. To our knowledge, the possibility that antenatal stress exacerbates lactation-driven exposure to SSRIs has not been tested yet. Thirty ICR-outbred female mice were exposed to stress during gestation and subsequently administered with either the SSRI, escitalopram, or the novel herbal candidate, shan-zha, during lactation. Upon weaning, both dams’ and pups’ anxiety-like behavior and serum escitalopram levels were assessed. The major findings of the current study show that both agents moderated the antenatal stress-induced transgenerational transference of anxiety by ameliorating dams’ anxiety. Interestingly though, pups’ exposure to escitalopram via lactation was exacerbated by antenatal stress. The latter finding provides a significant insight into the mechanism of lactation-driven exposure to xenobiotics and calls for a further consideration vis-à-vis the administration of other drugs during breastfeeding.

Original languageEnglish
Article number268
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2021


FundersFunder number
Open University of Israel Research Fund
Ministry of Science and Technology, Israel
Instituto Superior Técnico3-13552


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