As Polar Vortex II approaches, you’ll be interested in a recent study highlighting the impact of environment stressors on the epigenome. Prenatal maternal stress exposure is known to adversely affect offspring in a number of ways, depending on the nature of the exposure, but is typically studied in common exposures like diet, alcohol, and lead. But this has left the burning question, what about something a little less tangible and more ‘natural’, like the mother of all ice storms?
Way way back in 1998 Quebec suffered quite the ice-storm, creating a seriously stressful situation for millions of people who were out of power from days to months. It also created an interesting cohort of individuals to study. Five months after the storm a team from McGill University recruited the lucky ladies who were pregnant during this disaster, noted the impact of the stress, and then followed up with some DNA methylation profiling of T cells from 36 of the icy children, 13 years after the storm and compared it to their profiles obtained at age 8.
Here’s what they found:
- The ‘stormy night’ was associated with DNAm at 1675 CpG sites, which regulate 957 genes.
- These genes are primarily related to immune function and interestingly the degree of subjective (aka percieved) maternal distress is uncorrelated.
- DNAm changes in SCG5 and LTA are highly correlated with the objective (aka absolute) amount of maternal stress.
- These changes were comparable in in a number of cell-types (T-cells, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs,) and buccal cells.
Ultimately, this data provides some interesting insight into the environmentally responsive nature of the genome and shows that even natural events can result in long-lasting, broad, and yet functionally relevant DNA methylation signatures in exposed offspring.
Stay frosty at PLoS ONE, October 2014