A new study from a B.C. university says pregnant women who experience stress could pass on a genetic marker to their unborn fetus. 

In partnership with researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Germany, a Simon Fraser University professors says they have identified "a cellular memory" that could show connections between stress experienced in pregnancy and how people respond to stress later in life. 

"The prenatal period is one of the most dynamic and sensitive periods in a person's life," said SFU assistant professor Nadine Provençal in a news release. 

"Prenatal stress experienced by the mother during pregnancy not only impacts the mother’s health but can also impact her developing fetus. 

"Our research demonstrates an association between the epigenetic mark, or cellular memory, and an increased response to stress hormones, which could help to explain why some individuals are more vulnerable to stress later in life."

To get these findings, the team of researchers exposed human neurons to high levels of stress hormones, meant to mimic the experience of a fetal brain during prenatal stress.

The researchers discovered that those neurons had marks on their genes that stayed even after the stress was removed, acting as a form of "cellular memory."

They then studied the umbilical cord blood cells of newborns that had been exposed to maternal stress, including maternal depression and anxiety. From that, they noticed similarities between the marked neurons and the newborns' genes that had been exposed to stress. 

Researchers say these findings will help them to identify high risk individuals and develop ways to prevent disease or mental illness.