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Alumni – Interdisciplinary Projects
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Stress & Epige­net­ics: Epige­netic effects of parental stress in offspring

Dr. Amber Makow­icz — Hector Fellow Axel Meyer

The project focuses on the influ­ence of environ­men­tal stress on epige­netic changes in gene expres­sion. Using fish models, the influ­ence of stress in parents on long-term maladap­tive behav­ioral changes in subse­quent gener­a­tions will be investigated.

In this project, the Hector Fellows Thomas Elbert and Axel Meyer together with the postdoc­toral fellow Dr. Amber Makow­icz (Univer­sity of Konstanz) are conduct­ing research.

Chronic stress has been related to major mental disor­ders through changes in the HPA axis (an impor­tant stress response found in all verte­brates) and is most notable through changes in DNA methy­la­tion. The most common mental disor­ders that occur from chronic stress are depres­sion and anxiety, although other psychopatho­log­i­cal disor­ders may also occur. Mothers are thought to be the primary influ­encer of offspring devel­op­ment, especially in regards to neurode­vel­op­ment. Evidence is mount­ing that suggests that some of these epige­netic effects may even be trans­mit­ted trans­gen­er­a­tionally and would thus be directly affect­ing evolution.

Poecili­ids as a Model System

Poecili­ids are great models to test the effects of stress: they are small, livebear­ing fish that have short gener­a­tion times. There is no parental care in any of the species, which provides a perfect control for the poten­tial influ­ence of parental behav­iors on the offsprings’ behav­iors. Most impor­tantly, however, is that some species are matrotrophic featur­ing a placenta-like struc­ture and are able to trans­fer additional nutri­ents to offspring during pregnancy, while others are lecitotrophic and show no additional mater­nal trans­fer beyond the yoking of the egg.

The goal: To test the effects of stress on long-lasting maladap­tive behav­ioral changes in offspring of stressed parents and deter­mine how long these changes might be trans­mit­ted to subse­quent gener­a­tions. This research will allow us to better under­stand how environ­men­tal stres­sors influ­ence gene expres­sion and behav­iors of offspring.

Stress & Epigenetics: How Fishes Contribute to the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Poecili­ids as an appro­pri­ate model system

Dr. Amber Makowicz


Stress & Epigenetics

How fishes contribute to the treat­ment of post-traumatic stress disorder

An inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research project by Prof. Dr. Axel Meyer & Prof. Dr. Thomas Elbert


Super­vised by

Prof. Dr.

Axel Meyer


Hector Fellow since 2011Disziplinen Axel Meyer

Prof. Dr.

Thomas Elbert


Hector Fellow since 2009