Abstract

The incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is rising globally but their causes are generally not understood. Here we show that cumulative ancestral stress leads to premature aging and raises NCD risk in a rat population. This longitudinal study revealed that cumulative multigenerational prenatal stress (MPS) across four generations (F0-F3) raises age- and sex-dependent adverse health outcomes in F4 offspring. MPS accelerated biological aging processes and exacerbated sex-specific incidences of respiratory and kidney diseases, inflammatory processes and tumors. Unbiased deep sequencing of frontal cortex revealed that MPS altered expression of microRNAs and their target genes involved in synaptic plasticity, stress regulation, immune function and longevity. Multi-layer top-down deep learning metabolite enrichment analysis of urine markers revealed altered metabolic homeodynamics in MPS males. Thus, peripheral metabolic signatures may provide sensitive biomarkers of stress vulnerability and disease risk. Programming by MPS appears to be a significant determinant of lifetime mental health trajectories, physical wellbeing and vulnerability to NCDs through altered epigenetic regulation.