Maternal developmental history alters transfer of circadian clock genes to offspring in Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica)

Jessica-Lily Harvey-Carroll*, Tyler J Stevenson, Karen Anne Spencer

*Corresponding author for this work

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Maternal signals shape embryonic development, and in turn post-natal phenotypes. RNA deposition is one such method of maternal signalling and circadian rhythms are one trait thought to be maternally inherited, through this mechanism. These maternal circadian gene transcripts aid development of a functioning circadian system. There is increasing evidence that maternal signals can be modified, depending on prevailing environmental conditions to optimise offspring fitness. However, currently, it is unknown if maternal circadian gene transcripts, and consequently early embryonic gene transcription, are altered by maternal developmental conditions. Here, using avian mothers who experienced either pre-natal corticosterone exposure, and/or post-natal stress as juveniles we were able to determine the effects of the timing of stress on downstream circadian RNA deposition in offspring. We demonstrated that maternal developmental history does indeed affect transfer of offspring circadian genes, but the timing of stress was important. Avian mothers who experienced stress during the first 2 weeks of post-natal life increased maternally deposited transcript levels of two core circadian clock genes, BMAL1 and PER2. These differences in transcript levels were transient and disappeared at the point of embryonic genome transcription. Pre-natal maternal stress alone was found to elicit delayed changes in circadian gene expression. After activation of the embryonic genome, both BMAL1 and PER2 expression were significantly decreased. If both pre-natal and post-natal stress occurred, then initial maternal transcript levels of BMAL1 were significantly increased. Taken together, these results suggest that developmental stress differentially produces persistent transgenerational effects on offspring circadian genes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
VolumeEarly view
Early online date17 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Aug 2023


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