Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Inherited 'memory' of poor nutrition during pregnancy passed through sperm of male offspring

Date:
July 10, 2014
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
When a pregnant mother is undernourished, her child is at a greater risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes, in part due to so-called 'epigenetic' effects. A new study in mice demonstrates that this 'memory' of nutrition during pregnancy can be passed through sperm of male offspring to the next generation, increasing risk of disease for her grandchildren as well -- but raises questions over how long such effects will continue to have an impact.

When a pregnant mother is undernourished, her child is at a greater than average risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes, in part due to so-called 'epigenetic' effects. A new study in mice demonstrates that this 'memory' of nutrition during pregnancy can be passed through sperm of male offspring to the next generation, increasing risk of disease for her grandchildren as well -- in other words, to adapt an old maxim, 'you are what your grandmother ate'.

The study also raises questions over how epigenetic effects are passed down from one generation to the next -- and for how long they will continue to have an impact.

The mechanism by which we inherit characteristics from our parents is well understood: we inherit half of our genes from our mother and half from our father. However, epigenetic effects, whereby a 'memory' of the parent's environment is passed down through the generations, are less well understood. The best understood epigenetic effects are caused by a mechanism known as 'methylation' in which the molecule methyl attaches itself to our DNA and acts to switch genes on or off.

In a study published today in the journal Science and funded mainly by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, an international team of researchers has shown that environmentally-induced methylation changes occur only in certain regions of our genome (our entire genetic material) -- but, unexpectedly, that these methylation patterns are not passed on indefinitely.

Researchers led by the University of Cambridge and Joslin Diabetes Center/Harvard Medical School, Boston, used mice to model the impact that under-nutrition during pregnancy had on the offspring and to look for the mechanisms by which this effect was passed down through the generations. The male offspring of an undernourished mother were, as expected, smaller than average and, if fed a normal diet, went on to develop diabetes. Strikingly, the offspring of these were also born small and developed diabetes as adults, despite their own mothers never being undernourished.

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, from the Department of Genetics at the University of Cambridge, says: "When food is scarce, children may be born 'pre-programmed' to cope with undernourishment. In the event of a sudden abundance in food, their bodies cannot cope and they can develop metabolic diseases such as diabetes. We need to understand how these adaptations between generations occur since these may help us understand the record levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes in our society today."

To see how this effect might be passed on, the researchers analysed the sperm of offspring before the onset of diabetes to look at the methylation patterns. They found that the mouse's DNA was less methylated in 111 regions relative to a control sperm. These regions tended to be clustered in the non-coding regions of DNA -- the areas of DNA responsible for regulating the mouse's genes. They also showed that in the grandchildren, the genes next to these methylated regions were not functioning correctly -- the offspring had inherited a 'memory' of its grandmother's under-nutrition.

Unexpectedly, however, when the researchers looked at the grandchild's DNA, they found that the methylation changes had disappeared: the memory of the grandmother's under-nutrition had been erased from the DNA -- or at least, was no longer being transmitted via methylation.

"This was a big surprise: dogma suggested that these methylation patterns might persist down the generations," adds co-author Dr Mary-Elizabeth Patti from the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston. "From an evolutionary point of view, however, it makes sense. Our environment changes and we can move from famine to feast, so our bodies need to be able to adapt. Epigenetic changes may in fact wear off. This could give us some optimism that any epigenetic influence on our society's obesity and diabetes problem might also be limited and/or reversible."

The researchers are now looking at whether epigenetic effects no longer have an impact on great-grandchildren and their subsequent offspring. So, even if it's true that 'you are what your grandmother ate', it might not be true that 'you are what your great grandmother ate'.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Elizabeth J. Radford, Mitsuteru Ito, Hui Shi, Jennifer A. Corish, Kazuki Yamazawa, Elvira Isganaitis, Stefanie Seisenberger, Timothy A. Hore, Wolf Reik, Serap Erkek, Antoine H. F. M. Peters, Mary-Elizabeth Patti, and Anne C. Ferguson-Smith. In utero undernourishment perturbs the adult sperm methylome and intergenerational metabolism. Science, 10 July 2014 DOI: 10.1126/science.1255903

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Inherited 'memory' of poor nutrition during pregnancy passed through sperm of male offspring." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140710141547.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2014, July 10). Inherited 'memory' of poor nutrition during pregnancy passed through sperm of male offspring. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 3, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140710141547.htm
University of Cambridge. "Inherited 'memory' of poor nutrition during pregnancy passed through sperm of male offspring." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140710141547.htm (accessed September 3, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Snack Attack: Study Says Action Movies Make You Snack More

Snack Attack: Study Says Action Movies Make You Snack More

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) You're more likely to gain weight while watching action flicks than you are watching other types of programming, says a new study published in JAMA. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) The U.N. says the problem is two-fold — quarantine zones and travel restrictions are limiting the movement of both people and food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctors Fear They're Losing Battle Against Ebola

Doctors Fear They're Losing Battle Against Ebola

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) As a third American missionary is confirmed to have contracted Ebola in Liberia, doctors on the ground in West Africa fear they're losing the battle against the outbreak. (Sept. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tech Giants Bet on 3D Headsets for Gaming, Healthcare

Tech Giants Bet on 3D Headsets for Gaming, Healthcare

AFP (Sep. 2, 2014) When Facebook acquired the virtual reality hardware developer Oculus VR in March for $2 billion, CEO Mark Zuckerberg hailed the firm's technology as "a new communication platform." Duration: 02:24 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins