Transgenerational Transmission of Metabolic Disease

sharma-obesity-dna_molecule9If  anyone ever tells you that the current obesity epidemic can have nothing to do with genetics because “genes don’t change in a couple of generations”, it is completely fair to let them know that they probably do not know what they are talking about.

Indeed, there is now overwhelming evidence showing that a variety of health problems, particularly related to metabolic diseases including obesity, can well be transmitted from generation to generation as a result of epigenetic modifications that persist in subsequent generations, even if these are no longer exposed to the “trigger” environment.

Anyone who is interested in learning about how much we know about these intergenerational mechanisms, will probably want to read a recent review article on this subject by Rachel Stegemann and David Buchner, published in Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology.

In this papers the authors review examples of transgenerational inheritance of metabolic disease in both humans and model organisms and how these can be triggered by both genetic and environmental stimuli.ors

As the authors note,

“A diverse assortment of initial triggers can induce transgenerational inheritance including high-fat or high-sugar diets, low-protein diets, various toxins, and ancestral genetic variants. Although the mechanistic basis underlying the transgenerational inheritance of disease risk remains largely unknown, putative molecules mediating transmission include small RNAs, histone modifications, and DNA methylation.”

They also discuss example of therapeutically targeting the epigenome (e.g. through dietary modification or exercise) to prevent the transgenerational transmission of metabolic disease.

These findings have substantial implications for our attempts to prevent or even reverse the development of obesity in future generations.

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