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Concept: Genomic imprinting


BACKGROUND: Data from epidemiological and animal model studies suggest that nutrition during pregnancy may affect the health status of subsequent generations. These transgenerational effects are now being explained by disruptions at the level of the epigenetic machinery. Besides in vitro environmental exposures, the possible impact on the reprogramming of methylation profiles at imprinted genes at a much earlier time point, such as during spermatogenesis or oogenesis, has not previously been considered. In this study, our aim was to determine associations between preconceptional obesity and DNA methylation profiles in the offspring, particularly at the differentially methylated regions (DMRs) of the imprinted Insulin-like Growth Factor 2 (IGF2) gene. METHODS: We examined DNA from umbilical cord blood leukocytes from 79 newborns, born between July 2005 and November 2006 at Duke University Hospital, Durham, NC. Their mothers participated in the Newborn Epigenetics Study (NEST) during pregnancy. Parental characteristics were obtained via standardized questionnaires and medical records. DNA methylation patterns at two DMRs were analyzed by bisulfite pyrosequencing; one DMR upstream of IGF2 (IGF2 DMR), and one DMR upstream of the neighboring H19 gene (H19 DMR). Multiple regression models were used to determine potential associations between the offspring’s DNA methylation patterns and parental obesity before conception. Obesity was defined as body mass index (BMI) [greater than or equal to]30 kg/m2. RESULTS: Hypomethylation at the IGF2 DMR was associated with paternal obesity. Even after adjusting for several maternal and newborn characteristics, we observed a persistent inverse association between DNA methylation in the offspring and paternal obesity (beta-coefficient was -5.28, P = 0.003). At the H19 DMR, no significant associations were detected between methylation patterns and paternal obesity. Our data suggest an increase in DNA methylation at the IGF2 and H19 DMRs among newborns from obese mothers, but a larger study is warranted to further explore the potential effects of maternal obesity or lifestyle on the offspring’s epigenome. CONCLUSIONS: While our small sample size is limited, our data indicate a preconceptional impact of paternal obesity on the reprogramming of imprint marks during spermatogenesis. Given the biological importance of imprinting fidelity, our study provides evidence for transgenerational effects of paternal obesity that may influence the offspring’s future health status. See related commentary article here

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Histone, Epigenetics, Body mass index, DNA methylation, Umbilical cord, Genomic imprinting


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: To systematize existing data and review new findings on the cause of schizophrenia and outline an improved mixed model of schizophrenia risk. RECENT FINDINGS: Multiple and variable genetic and environmental factors interact to influence the risk of schizophrenia. Both rare variants with large effect and common variants with small effect contribute to genetic risk of schizophrenia, with no indication for differential impact on its clinical features. Accumulating evidence supports a genetic architecture of schizophrenia with multiple scenarios, including additive polygenic, heterogeneity, and mixed polygenic-heterogeneity. The epigenetic mechanisms that mediate gene-environment (GxE) interactions provide a framework to incorporate environmental factors into models of schizophrenia risk. Environmental pathogens with small effect on risk have robust effects in the context of family history of schizophrenia. Hence, genetic risk for schizophrenia may be expressed in part as sensitivity to environmental factors. SUMMARY: We propose an improved mixed model of schizophrenia risk in which abnormal epigenetic states with large effects are superimposed on a polygenic liability to schizophrenia. This scenario can account for GxE interactions and shared family environment, which in many cases are not explained by a single structural variant of large effect superimposed on polygenes (the traditional mixed model).

Concepts: Genetics, Gene expression, Epigenetics, Environment, Structure, Effectiveness, Genomic imprinting, Paramutation


DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism central to development and maintenance of complex mammalian tissues, but our understanding of its role in intestinal development is limited.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Histone, Epigenetics, Cellular differentiation, DNA methylation, Methylation, Genomic imprinting


A recent study finds that changes to transcription and DNA methylation resulting from in utero exposure to environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals are not inherited across generations.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Histone, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Methylation, Genomic imprinting, Lamarckism


A commonplace analysis in high-throughput DNA methylation studies is the comparison of methylation extent between different functional regions, computed by averaging methylation states within region types and then comparing averages between regions. For example, it has been reported that methylation is more prevalent in coding regions as compared to their neighboring introns or UTRs, leading to hypotheses about novel forms of epigenetic regulation.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Histone, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Methylation, Genomic imprinting


Ageing is affected by both genetic and non-genetic factors. Here, we review the chromatin-based epigenetic changes that occur during ageing, the role of chromatin modifiers in modulating lifespan and the importance of epigenetic signatures as biomarkers of ageing. We also discuss how epigenome remodelling by environmental stimuli affects several aspects of transcription and genomic stability, with important consequences for longevity, and outline epigenetic differences between the ‘mortal soma’ and the ‘immortal germ line’. Finally, we discuss the inheritance of characteristics of ageing and potential chromatin-based strategies to delay or reverse hallmarks of ageing or age-related diseases.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Histone, Epigenetics, Nucleosome, Genomic imprinting, Paramutation


Children born to parents with lower income and education are at risk for obesity and later-life risk of common chronic diseases, and epigenetics has been hypothesised to link these associations. However, epigenetic targets are unknown. We focus on a cluster of well-characterised genomically imprinted genes because their monoallelic expression is regulated by DNA methylation at differentially methylated regions (DMRs), are critical in fetal growth, and DNA methylation patterns at birth have been associated with increased risk of birth weight extremes and overweight status or obesity in early childhood.

Concepts: DNA, Pregnancy, Gene expression, Histone, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Methylation, Genomic imprinting


Epigenetic modifications, such as cytosine methylation in CpG-rich regions, regulate multiple functions in mammalian development. Maternal nutrients affecting one-carbon metabolism during gestation can exert long-term effects on the health of the progeny. Using C57BL/6 J mice, we investigated whether the amount of ingested maternal folic acid (FA) during gestation impacted DNA methylation in the offspring’s cerebral hemispheres. Reduced representation bisulfite sequencing at single-base resolution was performed to analyze genome-wide DNA methylation profiles.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Histone, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Methylation, Bisulfite sequencing, Genomic imprinting


Little is known about epigenetic mechanisms in birds with the exception of the phenomenon of dosage compensation of sex chromosomes, although such mechanisms could be involved in the phenotypic variability of birds, as in several livestock species. This paper reviews the literature on epigenetic mechanisms that could contribute significantly to trait variability in birds, and compares the results to the existing knowledge of epigenetic mechanisms in mammals. The main issues addressed in this paper are: (1) Does genomic imprinting exist in birds? (2) How does the embryonic environment influence the adult phenotype in avian species? (3) Does the embryonic environment have an impact on phenotypic variability across several successive generations? The potential for epigenetic studies to improve the performance of individual animals through the implementation of limited changes in breeding conditions or the addition of new parameters in selection models is still an open question.

Concepts: Gene, Natural selection, Evolution, Epigenetics, Chromosome, DNA methylation, Mammal, Genomic imprinting


Paul Kammerer was the most outstanding neo-Lamarckian experimentalist of the early 20th century. He reported spectacular results in the midwife toad, including crosses of environmentally modified toads with normal toads, where acquired traits were inherited in Mendelian fashion. Accusations of fraud generated a great scandal, ending with Kammerer’s suicide. Controversy reignited in the 1970s, when journalist Arthur Koestler argued against these accusations. Since then, others have argued that Kammerer’s results, even if real, were not groundbreaking and could be explained by somatic plasticity, inadvertent selection, or conventional genetics. More recently, epigenetics has uncovered mechanisms by which inheritance can respond directly to environmental change, inviting a reanalysis of Kammerer’s descriptions. Previous arguments for mere somatic plasticity have ignored the description of experiments showing heritable germ line modification. Alleged inadvertent selection associated with egg mortality can be discarded, since mortality decreased in a single generation, upon repeated exposures. The challenging implications did not escape the attention of Kammerer’s noted contemporary, William Bateson, but he reacted with disbelief, thus encouraging fraud accusations. Nowadays, formerly puzzling phenomena can be explained by epigenetic mechanisms. Importantly, Kammerer described parent-of-origin effects, an effect of parental sex on dominance. Epigenetic mechanisms underlie these effects in genomic imprinting and experiments of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. In the early 20th century, researchers had no reason to link them with the inheritance of acquired traits. Thus, the parent-of-origin effects in Kammerer’s experiments specifically suggest authenticity. Ultimate proof should come from renewed experimentation. To encourage further research, we present a model of possible epigenetic mechanisms.

Concepts: Genetics, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Gregor Mendel, Genomic imprinting, Lamarckism, Arthur Koestler, Paul Kammerer