Obesity, Diabetes, and Epigenetic Inheritance
Disease risk can be transmitted epigenetically via egg and sperm cells, a mouse study shows.
While scientists have identified several genetic risk factors for diabetes and obesity, some have proposed epigenetic alterations in gametes as another potential mechanism of disease risk inheritance. Now, a mouse study by researchers in Germany provides new evidence in support of this epigenetic inheritance theory, showing that different diets in otherwise identical mice can determine glucose intolerance and obesity risk in offspring via egg and sperm cells. The team’s findings were published today (March 14) in Nature Genetics.
“The view so far was that [risk] is all determined by genes—it’s fate,” said study coauthor Johannes Beckers of the Helmholtz Zentrum München. “But our findings give back a certain responsibility to the parents. They really have the possibility to affect what offspring inherit in their epigenome.”
Approximately 90 percent of nearly 350 million cases of diabetes worldwide are classified as type 2. In addition to environmental factors often cited to explain the high prevalence of the disease—including poor diets and sedentary lifestyles—several epidemiological and mouse studies have hinted that diet-induced susceptibility to obesity and diabetes, acquired during parents’ lifetimes, can be inherited.
However, previous analyses of the phenomenon have relied on in vivo fertilization to produce offspring, explained Beckers, making it difficult to distinguish heritable, epigenetic determinants in the gametes from other factors that can influen Continue reading