Environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease susceptibility

Environmental epigenetics affects disease, evolution

Washington State University researchers say environmental factors are having an underappreciated effect on the course of disease and evolution by prompting genetic mutations through epigenetics, a process by which genes are turned on and off independent of an organism’s DNA sequence.

epigenetics image
Researchers exposed gestating female rats to the fungicide vinclozolin. Third generation, or great-grand offspring, had increased genetic mutations, which the researchers saw in increased DNA structure changes known as copy-number variations. Epigenetic image by Wilfredo Shimura.

2015 Study Abstract

Environmental insults, such as exposure to toxicants or nutritional abnormalities, can lead to epigenetic changes that are in turn related to increased susceptibility to disease. The focus of this review is on the transgenerational inheritance of such epigenetic abnormalities (epimutations), and how it is that these inherited epigenetic abnormalities can lead to increased disease susceptibility, even in the absence of continued environmental insult. Observations of environmental toxicant specificity and exposure-specific disease susceptibility are discussed. How epimutations are transmitted across generations and how epigenetic changes in the germline are translated into an increased disease susceptibility in the adult is reviewed with regard to disease etiology.

Sources and more information
  • Environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease susceptibility, NCBI PMCID: 24657180, PMC4148471, Transl Res. 2015 Jan;165(1):12-7. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2014.02.003. Epub 2014 Feb 28.
  • Study: Environmental epigenetics affects disease, evolution, Washington State University, August 3, 2015.

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