Journal article

Evidence for biological roots in the transgenerational transmission of intimate partner violence

Intimate partner violence is a ubiquitous and devastating phenomenon for which effective interventions and a clear etiological understanding are still lacking. A major risk factor for violence perpetration is childhood exposure to violence, prompting the proposal that social learning is a major contributor to the transgenerational transmission of violence. Using an animal model devoid of human cultural factors, we showed that male rats became highly aggressive against their female partners as adults after exposure to non-social stressful experiences in their youth. Their offspring also showed increased aggression toward females in the absence of postnatal father-offspring interaction or any other exposure to violence. Both the females that cohabited with the stressed males and those that cohabited with their male offspring showed behavioral (including anxiety- and depression-like behaviors), physiological (decreased body weight and basal corticosterone levels) and neurobiological symptoms (increased activity in dorsal raphe serotonergic neurons in response to an unfamiliar male) resembling the alterations described in abused and depressed women. With the caution required when translating animal work to humans, our findings extend current psychosocial explanations of the transgenerational transmission of intimate partner violence by strongly suggesting an important role for biological factors. Translational Psychiatry (2012) 2, e106; doi:10.1038/tp.2012.32; published online 24 April 2012

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