It is often said that if a young man wants to know how his wife will turn out, he need only look at his mother-in-law.

Now it seems there might be some truth in that advice.

A study has found a brain structure pivotal to processing and controlling emotion is passed from mothers to daughters.

Brain scans showed the corticolimbic system - complex structures involved in everything from memory to fear and depression - was more similar in mothers and daughters than in mothers and sons.


The brains of mothers and daughters were also more similar than those of fathers and their children of either gender, the scans of 35 families showed.

The findings suggest women do turn into their mothers, at least in some respects.

The academics at the University of California, San Francisco, are not sure why the link is stronger down the female line. But previous research has shown that stress experienced in the womb has a bigger effect on the emotion centres of female animals than male ones. And, in humans, a woman is more likely to become depressed if her mother has also suffered from the condition.

The study's lead author, psychiatrist Fumiko Hoeft, said: "Many factors play a role in depression - genes that are not inherited from the mother, social environment and life experiences, to name but three. Mother-daughter transmission is just one piece of it.

"But this is the first study to bridge animal and human research and show a possible matrilineal transmission of human corticolimbic circuitry, which has been implicated in depression, by scanning both parents and offspring.

"It opens the door to a whole new avenue of research looking at intergenerational transmission patterns in the human brain.

"Anxiety, autism, addiction, schizophrenia, dyslexia - you name it, brain patterns inherited from both mothers and fathers have an impact on just about all of them."

But Malcolm Macleod, a professor of neurology at Edinburgh University, cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the findings without further study. He said it is easy to see all sorts of similarities between mothers and daughters, but added that it is a big jump to then make links to depression.

The latest research is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Dr Hoeft now aims to work out whether the similarities are passed on through genes, conditions in the womb or through a shared home life.

- Daily Mail