Maternal obesity causes fetal liver damage

This 2018 US baboon study was on fetal effects from maternal obesity before and during pregnancy:

“Approximately 64% of women of childbearing age in the USA [are] overweight or obese. The baboon is a well-characterized animal model sharing many physiological, metabolic, and genetic characteristics with humans allowing direct translation of findings to human pregnancy.

Our study shows that fetal exposure to the MO [maternal obesity] intrauterine environment results in dysregulation of fetal hepatic genes central to metabolism.

These findings were further supported by identification of miRNAs that were inversely expressed with key genes in these pathways..suggest important early molecular mechanisms by which MO programs fetal hepatic lipid metabolism.

Future studies are required in MO post-natal offspring to determine the extent to which the fetal phenotype persists, and the degree to which this increases offspring risk of cardiometabolic disorders in later life.”

The study provided many measurements that may be relevant to humans. Other consequential measurements were missing that may have made the study’s findings even more applicable to humans:

  • No placental measurements other than weight. The organ through which the fetus received its nutrients, signaled its needs, modulated its growth rate, and developed its organs, was only measured by weight?
  • No other epigenetic analyses such as DNA methylation and histone modifications.

Were these omitted due to limited resources? “Primate fetal hepatic responses to maternal obesity: epigenetic signalling pathways and lipid accumulation”


RNA and neurodegenerative diseases

This 2018 Chinese paper reviewed the associations among long non-coding RNA and four neurodegenerative diseases:

“lncRNAs are widely implicated in various physiological and pathological processes, such as epigenetic regulation, cell cycle regulation, cell differentiation regulation, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, through their interactions with chromatin, protein, and other RNAs. Numerous studies have suggested that lncRNAs are closely linked with the occurrence and development of a variety of diseases, especially neurodegenerative diseases, of which the etiologies are complicated and the underlying mechanisms remain elusive.

We focus on how lncRNA dysfunctions are involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.”

Table 1 showed specific lncRNAs that acted as “bodyguards” in inherited Huntington’s disease, “culprits” in Alzheimer’s disease, and as both in Parkinson’s disease. The table didn’t include lncRNAs associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis although the review text mentioned several. “Long Non-coding RNAs, Novel Culprits, or Bodyguards in Neurodegenerative Diseases”

A study of gene-environment interactions

This 2018 Hungary/UK study used Bayesian analysis to better understand gene-environment interactions that produce depression:

“Most genetic studies do not consider the effect of stressors which may be one reason for the lack of replicable results in candidate gene studies, GWAS [genome-wide association studies] and between human studies and animal models..Animal models of depression usually imply environmental factors, such as chronic unpredictable stress or learned helplessness.

Relevance of functional polymorphisms in seven candidate genes previously implicated in animal and human studies on a depression-related phenotype given various recent stress exposure levels was assessed with Bayesian relevance analysis in 1682 subjects.

Our data support the strong causative role of the environment modified by genetic factors, similar to animal models.”

From the Methods and Materials section:

“In order to identify recent negative life events (RLE) we used the List of Threatening Experiences questionnaire which queried problems related to illnesses/injuries, financial difficulties, problems related to intimate relationships, and social network occurring in the last year. Based on corresponding items the number of RLEs was counted for each subject, and categorized (low = 0–1, moderate = 2, high = 3/more).”

One item from the findings, and two from the cited references were:

“5-HTTLPR [serotonin transporter], the most extensively investigated polymorphism with respect to interaction with life events, showed only very low relevance.

Compared to heritability which accounts for 37–42% in the variance in general population samples, influence of environmental effects is estimated at 63% in depression.

Etiologically relevant distal and proximal stressors are relatively common, and while frequency of severe life events is estimated to be one in every 3–4 years, depression is triggered in only about one fifth of those with acute stress exposure.”

The methods of this study bypassed problems with GWAS and provided evidence for the lasting effects of “Etiologically relevant distal..stressors.” This was another way of saying that traumatic experiences beginning from the earliest parts of our lives still affect our biology and behavior.

As mentioned in Changing an individual’s future behavior even before they’re born, GWAS:

“Focuses on the average effect of alternative alleles averaged in a population.”

What this methodology often missed was:

“When phenotypic variation results from alleles that modify phenotypic variance rather than the mean, this link between genotype and phenotype will not be detected.”

The problems found in GWAS may also be found in epigenome-wide association studies. Researchers conducting DNA methylation analyses in particular may benefit from changing their approach if what they’re doing follows the GWAS paradigm.

Using twins to estimate the extent of epigenetic effects summarized three studies’ methods that showed:

“The epigenetic effects of each of our unique experiences of our non-shared environment predominately determine our individual physiology.”

This study’s approach should be considered, given the almost 2:1 relative impacts of environmental over genetic factors in influencing our biology and behavior. It’s especially indicated when human studies don’t replicate animal studies’ findings from strictly controlled experimental environments.

It wasn’t the study’s purpose to evaluate effective treatments for depression. Yet the abstract ended with:

“Galanin-2 receptor, BDNF and X-type purin-7 receptor could be drug targets for new antidepressants.”

The researchers were very careful to document the benefits of using a different approach to a problem. I hope that in the future, they will maintain their carefulness and independence in their approach to solutions, and not be influenced by:

“Consultancy, speaking engagements and research for Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Schering Plough, Janssen-Cilag and Servier..share options in P1vital..consultancy fees from Alkermes, Lundbeck-Otsuka Ltd., Janssen-Cilag Ltd and fees for speaking from Lundbeck.” “Significance of risk polymorphisms for depression depends on stress exposure”

Sleep and adult brain neurogenesis

This 2018 Japan/Detroit review subject was the impact of sleep and epigenetic modifications on adult dentate gyrus neurogenesis:

“We discuss the functions of adult‐born DG neurons, describe the epigenetic regulation of adult DG neurogenesis, identify overlaps in how sleep and epigenetic modifications impact adult DG neurogenesis and memory consolidation..

Whereas the rate of DG neurogenesis declines exponentially with age in most mammals, humans appear to exhibit a more modest age‐related reduction in DG neurogenesis. Evidence of adult neurogenesis has also been observed in other regions of the mammalian brain such as the subventricular zone, neocortex, hypothalamus, amygdala, and striatum.

Adult‐born DG neurons functionally integrate into hippocampal circuitry and play a special role in cognition during a period of heightened excitability and synaptic plasticity occurring 4–6 weeks after mitosis. Adult DG neurogenesis is regulated by a myriad of intrinsic and extrinsic factors, including:

  • drugs,
  • diet,
  • inflammation,
  • physical activity,
  • environmental enrichment,
  • stress, and
  • trauma.”

Some of what the review stated was contradicted by other evidence. For example, arguments for sleep were based on the memory consolidation paradigm, but evidence against memory consolidation wasn’t cited for balanced consideration.

It reminded me of A review that inadvertently showed how memory paradigms prevented relevant research. That review’s citations included a study led by one of those reviewers where:

“The researchers elected to pursue a workaround of the memory reconsolidation paradigm when the need for a new paradigm of enduring memories directly confronted them!”

Some of what this review stated was speculation. I didn’t quote any sections that followed:

 “We go one step further and propose..”

The review also had a narrative directed toward:

“Employing sleep interventions and epigenetic drugs..”

It’s storytelling rather than pursuing the scientific method when reviewers approach a topic as these reviewers did.

Instead of reading the review, I recommend this informative blog post from a Canadian researcher who provided scientific contexts rather than a directed narrative to summarize what is and isn’t known so far in 2018 about human neurogenesis. “Regulatory Influence of Sleep and Epigenetics on Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis and Cognitive and Emotional Function”

An example of researchers changing their field’s paradigms

This 2018 German review subject was retroviruses:

“Initial indications that retroviruses are connected to neoplastic transformation were seen more than a century ago. 43% of the human genome is made up of such elements and 8% of the genome is comprised of retroviruses that infected human ancestors, entering cells of the germ line or proliferating thereafter by retrotransposition.

Endogenized retroviruses (ERVs) are abundantly expressed in many transformed cells. In healthy cells, ERV expression is commonly prevented by DNA methylation and other epigenetic control mechanisms.

A recent string of papers has described favorable outcomes of increasing human ERV (HERV) RNA and DNA abundance by treatment of cancer cells with methyltransferase inhibitors. Analogous to an infecting agent, the ERV-derived nucleic acids are sensed in the cytoplasm and activate innate immune responses that drive the tumor cell into apoptosis.”

Some researchers weren’t satisfied with the status quo of this century-old field:

“Chiappinelli et al. (2015) and Roulois et al. (2015) demonstrated a link between DNMTi-induced activation of HERV expression and innate sensing of transcribed viral RNAs and activation of innate immunity signaling pathways leading to an inhibition of tumor cell growth. These results represent a paradigm shift in our comprehension of the antitumor activity of demethylating agents.”

There are opportunities for any researcher whose field can be related to epigenetics to update the way studies are done. Why should researchers settle for mediocrity when they can make a difference? “HERVs New Role in Cancer: From Accused Perpetrators to Cheerful Protectors”