A seasonal epigenetic effect of conception on BMI

This 2018 Swiss human/rodent study found:

“The presence of brown adipose tissue (BAT) and the season of conception are linked to BMI in humans. In mice, we demonstrate that cold exposure (CE) of males, but not females, before mating results in improved systemic metabolism and protection from diet-induced obesity of the male offspring.

Adipose tissue functions as a dynamic endocrine organ, and its ‘quality’ is considered to be an important factor in the development of obesity-associated comorbidities. Adipose tissue can be divided into the functionally and morphologically distinct white adipose tissue (WAT) and BAT. The main function of BAT is energy dissipation via nonshivering thermogenesis, which is enabled by the presence of uncoupling protein (UCP1) in the inner mitochondrial membrane.

In humans and in mice, seasonal or experimental CE induces an epigenetic programming of the sperm such that the offspring harbor hyperactive BAT and an improved adaptation to overnutrition and hypothermia.

We performed a retrospective study of FDG-PET/CT scans from 2007–2015 that were collected from the University Hospital of Zurich (n = 8,440 individuals). Individuals with active BAT were 3.2% more likely to have been conceived in the colder period of the year, for example, between October and February (mean temperature estimate 2° C), whereas individuals without active BAT were more likely to have been conceived in the warmer months, for example, between April and September (mean temperature estimate 13° C).”


The study provided another example of how stressful experiences of parents – even those before offspring conception – affected their offspring.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-018-0102-y “Cold-induced epigenetic programming of the sperm enhances brown adipose tissue activity in the offspring” (not freely available)

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A mid-year selection of epigenetic topics

Here are the most popular of the 65 posts I’ve made so far in 2018, starting from the earliest:

The pain societies instill into children

DNA methylation and childhood adversity

Epigenetic mechanisms of muscle memory

Sex-specific impacts of childhood trauma

Sleep and adult brain neurogenesis

This dietary supplement is better for depression symptoms than placebo

The epigenetic clock theory of aging

A flying human tethered to a monkey

Immune memory in the brain

The lack of oxygen’s epigenetic effects on a fetus

Addictive behavior and epigenetic DNA methylation

This 2018 McGill paper reviewed findings from animal and human studies on the relationships between drug-seeking behavior and epigenetic DNA methylation:

“Although there is an increasing line of evidence from preclinical models of addiction, there are only a few human studies that systematically assessed DNA methylation in addiction. Most of the studies were done on small cohorts and focused on one or a few candidate genes, except in the case of alcohol use where larger studies have been carried out.

A long line of evidence suggests that abnormal patterns of gene expression occur in brain regions related to drug addiction such as the nucleus accumbens, prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and the ventral tegmental area.

Using the “incubation of craving” model in rats trained to self-administer cocaine, and treated with either SAM or RG108, the genome-wide DNA methylation and gene expression landscape in the nucleus accumbens after short (1 day) and long (30 days) abstinence periods and the effects of epigenetic treatments were delineated. The main findings are:

  • A long incubation period results in robust changes in methylation;
  • Direct accumbal infusion of SAM that is paired with a “cue” after long incubation times increases drug-seeking behavior,
  • Whereas a single treatment with RG108 decreases this behavior.

Importantly, the effects of these single administrations of a DNA methylation inhibitor remain stable for 30 more days. These data suggest that DNA methylation might be mediating the impact of “incubation” on the craving phenotype and that this phenotype could be reprogrammed by a DNA demethylation agent.”


The subject has a large scope, and a narrow aspect was presented in this paper. Rodent research by one of the coauthors that was cited, Chronic pain causes epigenetic changes in the brain and immune system, provided some relevant details.

The review covered neither human dimensions of the impacts of unfulfilled needs nor investigations of exactly what pain may impel human drug-seeking behavior. The “Implications for Diagnostic and Therapeutics” were largely at the molecular level.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877117318300164 “The Role of DNA Methylation in Drug Addiction: Implications for Diagnostic and Therapeutics” (not freely available)

Transgenerational epigenetic effects of maternal obesity during pregnancy

This 2018 Belgian review subject was in part the transgenerational epigenetic effects of maternal obesity during pregnancy. The subject was tailored for the journal in which it appeared, Atherosclerosis, so other transgenerationally inherited epigenetic effects weren’t reviewed:

“The transgenerational impact of these alterations in methylation patterns are only shown in animal studies with HFD [high-fat diet] animals. In this respect the paternal influence also comes forward.

Alterations in methylation at the spermatozoa of male rats fed with a HFD were shown in combination with transgenerational metabolic effects, mainly on the female offspring. Methylation alterations in spermatozoa were also found in the male offspring of dams fed with HFD during their pregnancy. Consequent effects on the phenotype were again only shown in female offspring (until third generation).

A transgenerational inheritance through the female germline by mitochondrial inheritance has been suggested. A recent, small study in humans found altered mitochondrial functioning in the male offspring of overweight woman. A finding that has been confirmed in mice studies with a persistence of this transfer of aberrant oocyte mitochondria into the third generation.

The identification of a number of alterations in active cardiovascular microRNA species in the offspring of animals with obesity offer promising perspectives for the future.”

Evidence for transgenerational aspects of in utero programming included two studies I hadn’t previously curated:

  1. https://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(16)30663-5 “Maternal Metabolic Syndrome Programs Mitochondrial Dysfunction via Germline Changes across Three Generations” (2016)
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221287781500232X “High-fat diet reprograms the epigenome of rat spermatozoa and transgenerationally affects metabolism of the offspring” (2016)

https://www.atherosclerosis-journal.com/article/S0021-9150(18)30328-9/fulltextIn utero programming and early detection of cardiovascular disease in the offspring of mothers with obesity”

A protein involved in fasting’s epigenetic effects

This 2018 Illinois rodent study conducted a series of experiments on a protein that’s activated by fasting:

“Jumonji D3 (JMJD3) histone demethylase epigenetically regulates development and differentiation, immunity, and tumorigenesis by demethylating a gene repression histone mark, H3K27-me3. JMJD3 has what we believe to be a novel metabolic role and epigenetically regulates mitochondrial β-oxidation.

Epigenetic modifications play a critical role in linking environmental signals, such as changes in nutrient and hormonal levels and the circadian rhythm, to regulate genes to maintain homeostasis. Epigenetics is particularly relevant to metabolic regulation.

In response to fasting, the interaction of JMJD3 with both SIRT1 and PPARα is induced, which leads to epigenetic activation of their own genes and of β-oxidation network genes. Downregulation of hepatic JMJD3 leads to intrinsic defects in β-oxidation, which results in liver steatosis as well as glucose and insulin intolerance.

JMJD3 was required for the beneficial effects mediated by expression of SIRT1 in obese mice and vice versa. Restoration of JMJD3 to normal levels in HFD [high-fat diet]-fed obese mice leads to improved fatty acid β-oxidation and ameliorates metabolic symptoms of obesity and these beneficial effects are largely dependent on SIRT1.”


Have to hand it to the researchers who named this protein to coincidentally rhyme with a children’s book and movie. It certainly provokes more interest than other ways of naming discoveries, such as after what it resembles and/or the discoverer’s name.

https://www.jci.org/articles/view/97736 “Fasting-induced JMJD3 histone demethylase epigenetically activates mitochondrial fatty acid β-oxidation”

Melatonin and depression

This 2018 Polish review subject was the relationship between melatonin and depression:

“Although melatonin has been known about and referred to for almost 50 years, the relationship between melatonin and depression is still not clear. In this review, we summarize current knowledge about the genetic and epigenetic regulation of enzymes involved in melatonin synthesis and metabolism as potential features of depression pathophysiology and treatment.

Melatonin has an antidepressant effect by:

  • Maintaining the body’s circadian rhythm,
  • Regulating the pattern of expression of the clock genes in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and
  • Modifying the key genes of serotoninergic neurotransmission that are linked with a depressive mood.

Light input causes the release of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) by the SCN, and the inhibitory signal is transmitted to the pineal gland to inhibit melatonin production.

Melatonin is produced via the metabolism of serotonin in two steps which are catalyzed by serotonin N-acetyltransferase (SNAT) and acetylserotonin-O-methyltransferase (ASMT). Serotonin, SNAT, and ASMT are key melatonin level regulation factors.

Both melatonin and serotonin are synthesized from the same amino acid, tryptophan. People on a high tryptophan diet (>10 mg/kg body weight per day) have a significantly lower level of depressive symptoms, irritation, and anxiety than people on a low tryptophan diet (<5 mg/kg body weight per day).

To our knowledge, there are only 2 studies in the literature that characterize mRNA expression of ASMT in the peripheral blood of recurrent DD [depressive disorders]. [They] have demonstrated the reduced mRNA expression of ASMT in patients with depression and cognitive impairment. Surprisingly, these studies, despite promising results, have not been replicated. Moreover, no analysis of other melatonin related-genes as potential biomarkers of depression has been provided.

The main monoamine hypothesis of the pathophysiology of depression indicates that depression is induced by a change in the level of ≥1 monoamines such as serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. The evidence for the serotonergic theory is an observation that antidepressants such as tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors increase the level of serotonin in the brain.

We focus on serotonin as a neurotransmitter which is a precursor of melatonin synthesis. In a depressed patient, serotonin synthesis is impaired and the poor precursor availability may prevent the formation of an adequate amount of melatonin. However, only a few studies have analyzed the relationship between serotonin and melatonin levels and the correlation with the blood serum.”


At eight cents a day ($.04 for women) melatonin is a cheap and effective supplement.

I hadn’t considered possible antidepressant effects until reading this review. More human studies are needed.

https://www.karger.com/Article/Pdf/489470 “Pathophysiology of Depression: Molecular Regulation of Melatonin Homeostasis – Current Status” (not freely available)

A disturbance in the paradigm of child abuse

The principal way science advances is through the principle Einstein expressed as:

“No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”

Members of the scientific community and of the public should be satisfied that the scientific process is working well when hypotheses are discarded due to nonconfirming evidence. Researchers should strive to develop evidence that rejects paradigms, and be lauded for their efforts.

The opposite took place with this 2018 commentary on two studies where the evidence didn’t confirm current biases. I curated one of these studies in DNA methylation and childhood adversity.

The commentators’ dismissive tone was set in the opening paragraph:

“Is early exposure to adversity associated with a genetic or an epigenetic signature? At first glance, two articles in this issue -..and the other from Marzi et al., who measured genome-wide DNA methylation in a prospective twin cohort assessed at age 18 – appear to say that it is not.”

The two commentators, one of whom was a coauthor of Manufacturing PTSD evidence with machine learning, went on to protect their territory. Never mind the two studies’ advancement of science that didn’t coincide with the commentators’ vested interests.


My main concern with the study was that although the children had been studied at ages 5, 7, 10, 12, and 18, the parents had never been similarly evaluated! The researchers passed up an opportunity to develop the parents as a F0 generation for understanding possible human transgenerational inherited epigenetic causes and effects.

The study focused on the children’s intergenerational epigenetic effects. However, animal studies have often demonstrated transgenerational effects that skip over the F1 generation children!

For example:

https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.18020156 “Considering the Genetic and Epigenetic Signature of Early Adversity Within a Biopsychosocial Framework” (not freely available)