Marine organisms need to adapt in order to cope with the adverse effects of ocean acidification and warming. Transgenerational exposure to CO2 stress has been shown to enhance resilience to ocean acidification in offspring from a number of species. However, the molecular basis underlying such adaptive responses is currently unknown. Here, we compared the transcriptional profiles of two genetically distinct oyster breeding lines following transgenerational exposure to elevated CO2 in order to explore the molecular basis of acclimation or adaptation to ocean acidification in these organisms. The expression of key target genes associated with antioxidant defence, metabolism and the cytoskeleton was assessed in oysters exposed to elevated CO2 over three consecutive generations. This set of target genes was chosen specifically to test whether altered responsiveness of intracellular stress mechanisms contributes to the differential acclimation of oyster populations to climate stressors. Transgenerational exposure to elevated CO2 resulted in changes to both basal and inducible expression of those key target genes (e.g. ecSOD, catalase and peroxiredoxin 6), particularly in oysters derived from the disease-resistant, fast-growing B2 line. Exposure to CO2 stress over consecutive generations produced opposite and less evident effects on transcription in a second population that was derived from wild-type (nonselected) oysters. The analysis of key target genes revealed that the acute responses of oysters to CO2 stress appear to be affected by population-specific genetic and/or phenotypic traits and by the CO2 conditions to which their parents had been exposed. This supports the contention that the capacity for heritable change in response to ocean acidification varies between oyster breeding lines and is mediated by parental conditioning.