The mental health of at least three generations of the same families was potentially damaged, say scientists, suggesting that the environment that one lives in can affect your offspring’s genes.
The study presented at a meeting of the European Academy of Neurology in Oslo was based on 56 people aged 79 and 80, half of whom survived the Holocaust.
It found that survivors had significantly less grey matter, or neurons, in areas of the brain responsible for stress response, memory, motivation, emotion, learning and behaviour.
Lead author Professor Ivan Rektor, from Masaryk University, Czech Republic, said: ‘Early results show this is also the case in children of survivors, too.’
The findings may lead to descendants being offered therapy to help them cope with the emotional legacy of the genocide, Professor Rektor added.
Further research will identify markers of stress resilience and post-traumatic growth and will determine whether transmission to offspring is based on behavioural, psychological or genetic factors.
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