Stress gets to us all on occasion. Whether it’s the more familiar stress that leads to hair-tearing-out, or some other version like coping with a bully, plants dealing with temperature changes, or even alcohol exposure as a fetus, stress has been shown to have profound effects on individuals down to an epigenetic level. But as new research is showing that epigenetic changes from stressful events can also have consequences for future generations.
Researchers from Harvard and Sweden set out see how epigenetic variation is spread throughout a population. They accomplished this by assaying for the loss of imprinting (LOI) at imprinting control regions (ICRs). LOI is typically associated with a number of disorders and cancers. By examining “the prevalence of H19 and IGF2 LOI at birth by allele-specific expression assays analysis on 114 human individuals” the researchers came across some interesting findings that open new areas for investigation. Here’s what they found:
- LOI was observed in cord blood at frequencies of 4% for H19 for 22% IGF2.
- LOI did not correspond to altered methylation levels in the differentially methylation of ICRs or with changes in “overall gene expression for the majority of people”.
- Ultimately their findings “suggest that LOI is present in phenotypically healthy infants.” So it seems that there is a lot more than just DNA methylation and gene expression contributing to the regulation of genomic imprinting.
“This study may help us understand whether epigenetic mechanisms contribute to chronic disease susceptibility already prior to birth,” says senior author Dr. Karin Michels. “We are currently exploring which stressors during prenatal life may contribute to these epigenetic disruptions.”
“For a long time, doctors have considered fetal stress as a symptom of serious familial disease,” concludes Dr. Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Now, we see that fetal stress is in and of itself a long-term risk factor for chronic disease: it changes the way we inherit genes from our parents.”
Give your stress ball a transgenerational squeeze over at the FASEB Journal, 2013