Conferences provide an up-to-the-minute look at what’s going on inside epigenetics labs all over the world. By tuning into our conference coverage, we’ve tagged diet and nutrition as an important trend to follow in epigenetic research. Here’s a look at some trendy examples in our Conference Highlights from the last year or so.
Differentially Methylated and Expressed Genes in Food Allergies
Last August, at the A Day with Andy Feinberg Symposium, the session opened with a presentation by David Martino (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute), on his work in elucidating the molecular and epigenetic basis of food allergies. Martino and his co-workers studied expression levels and DNA-methylation in CD4+ extracted at birth and twelve month after birth from children with and without food allergies. They identified life spread changes in RNA levels and DNA methylation in relation with age. They were also able to isolate a number of differentially expressed genes at birth in children with food allergies, that were associated with a reduced ability of T-cells to proliferate in in-vitro assays and accompanied by changes in DNA-methylation.
These changes resulted in differential baseline expression of Th2-associated genes in the same children at the 12 months time point. Their data provided a first molecular insight in how neonatal T-cell activation pathways can increase the risk of food allergy.
Fetal Vitamin D levels and CYP24A1 Regulation
Also at the Andy Feinberg Symposium, Boris Novakovic (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute) studied the association between epigenetic CYP24A1 gene regulation and fetal vitamin D levels in twins. Fetal vitamin D levels are dependent on the supply of the hormone through the placenta. Studies have shown that the promoter of the CYP24A1 gene, the product of which encodes an enzyme that catabolises active vitamin D, is highly methylated in placental compared to other tissue. So far however this study however has failed to establish a direct link between variations in CYP24A1 promoter methylation and fetal/maternal vitamin D levels, with maternal vitamin D levels identified as the major contributor to the levels in the fetus.
Letting Food Be the Best Epigenetic Medicine
During the recent Genomics Research 2012 conference, Trygve Tollefsbol (University of Alabama at Birmingham) continued the dialog on the Epigenetic diet, leaving attendees looking for green tea and broccoli at the coffee break. ‘What’ and importantly ‘how much’ we eat can aid in cancer prevention and may increase lifespan. Various studies have indicated that epigenetic-modifying compounds found in items such as cruciferous veggies, soybean products, and green tea can change DNA methylation and histone modification activity, and subsequently influencing gene expression. As portion control remains at the forefront of the war on obesity, the question of ‘how much?’ (caloric restriction) may also help with living longer. This was illustrated with in vitro experiments with human diploid cell line under glucose restriction, which extended the cells lifespan and reduced survival of precancerous cells. Further evidence of this has been observed in animal models, so perhaps controlled fasting can slow the aging process. At the core, the Epigenetic diet tells the long told story of eating more veggies (especially cruciferous ones), and limiting caloric intake such as reducing the amount of high sugar foods. Perhaps this new avenue may reach more of those interested in exercising their epigenomes.
Epigenetics Effects of BPA in the Food Supply
At last year’s Environmental Epigenomics and Disease Susceptibility meeting lots of research was presented on how environmental exposures may influence human development and health through the food supply. Current interest focuses on Bis Phenol A (BPA) which is found in plastics and what role this has for in utero development and adult health.
Dana Dolinoy (University of Michigan) investigated BPA exposure with both a dose response animal model (agouti) as well as a human cohort (Egyptian cohort). Dr. Dolinoy summarized the epigenomic data from various animal models, human clinical cohorts, and epidemiological studies indicating that BPA induced alternations vary across doses and species, which should be considered in future BPA risk assessment for human health. For more details watch this interview with Dr. Dolinoy in our video section.
Frederica Perera (Columbia University) outlined the exposure studies being conducted in a longitudinal cohort of mothers and children tracking BPA, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and other environmental-related exposures from in utero to adolescence. Dr. Perera noted that persistence in global methylation is observed between paired cord blood and 3-year-old samples. For more details watch this interview with Dr. Perera in our video section.