Little evidence for mitochondrial DNA methylation

This 2018 Japanese rodent study used three different techniques to detect mitochondrial DNA methylation:

“Whilst 5-methylcytosine (5mC) is a major epigenetic mark in the nuclear DNA in mammals, whether or not mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) receives 5mC modification remains controversial.

We used bisulfite sequencing, McrBC digestion analyses and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry, which are distinctly differing methods for detecting 5mC..we analysed mtDNAs from mouse ESCs [embryonic stem cells] and from mouse liver and brain tissues.

Taken together, we propose that 5mC is not present at any specific region(s) of mtDNA and that levels of the methylated cytosine are fairly low, provided the modification occurs. It is thus unlikely that 5mC plays a universal role in mtDNA gene expression or mitochondrial metabolism.”

Bisulfite sequencing infers the presence of CpG (CG above) and non-CpG (CH above) methylation through unconverted residues:

“Synthetic and native mtDNA gave similar patterns, suggesting that the resistance of cytosines to bisulfite conversion is not due to methylation.”

It seems that epigenetic changes to mitochondrial DNA occur primarily through histone modifications. Lysine acetylation is gnarly and dynamic is one paper that detailed aspects of this functionality in mitochondria. “Accurate estimation of 5-methylcytosine in mammalian mitochondrial DNA”


The purpose of epigenetic mechanisms

The concluding remarks of this 2018 Chinese review were:

“Using heterochromatin as a model, we have reviewed here the mechanisms behind the establishment and maintenance of silent chromatin domains. We conclude that almost every component of the chromatin environment, including DNA elements, RNAs, histones and other chromatin proteins, plays a role in the process of shaping and maintaining epigenetic states.

Epigenetic mechanisms have solve the problem of orchestrating the differentiation of cells with the same genome. Just as any stable system must preserve some degree of flexibility, crosstalk and feedback among all elements in the system are mechanistically required.

We emphasize that:

  1. epigenetic information is inherited [from parent cell to child cell] in a relatively stable but imprecise fashion;
  2. multiple cis and trans factors are involved in the maintenance of epigenetic information during mitosis; and
  3. the maintenance of a repressive epigenetic state requires both recruitment and self-reinforcement mechanisms.”

Studies I’ve curated in 2018 whose methodologies may have benefited from investigating multiple epigenetic mechanisms included:

Only DNA methylation:

Only microRNAs:

A review of studies that investigated DNA methylation and microRNAs but not histone modifications: “Recruitment and reinforcement: maintaining epigenetic silencing” (not freely available)

Genomic imprinting and growth

This 2018 UK paper reviewed genomic imprinting:

“Since their discovery nearly 30 years ago, imprinted genes have been a paradigm for exploring the epigenetic control of gene expression. Moreover, their roles in early life growth and placentation are undisputed.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that imprinted gene function has a wider role in maternal physiology during reproduction – both by modulating fetal and placental endocrine products that signal to alter maternal energy homeostasis, and by altering maternal energetic set points, thus producing downstream actions on nutrient provisioning.”

“Imprinted genes in the conceptus produce products that alter maternal resource allocation by:

  1. altering the transport capacity of the placenta;
  2. increasing fetal demand for resources by their action on the intrinsic growth rate; and
  3. signalling to the mother by the production of fetal/placental hormones that modify maternal metabolism.”

Other studies/reviews I’ve curated that covered genomic imprinting are: “Genomic imprinting, growth and maternal-fetal interactions”

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How well do single-mother rodent studies inform us about human fathers?

Two items before getting to the review:

This 2018 Australian review subject was paternal intergenerational and transgenerational transmission of biological and behavioral phenotypes per this partial outline:

“Evidence for non-genetic inheritance of behavioral traits in human populations

  • Intergenerational inheritance modulating offspring phenotypes following paternal exposure to trauma
  • Epigenetic inheritance via the germline following paternal environmental exposures
  • Limitations of research on epigenetic inheritance in human populations

The transgenerational impact of stressful paternal environments

  • Impact of paternal stress on affective behaviors and HPA-axis regulation of progeny
  • Influence of paternal stress exposure on offspring cognition
  • Role of sperm-borne microRNAs in the epigenetic inheritance of stress

Sexually dimorphic aspects of paternal transgenerational epigenetic inheritance”

The review was comprehensive, and filled in the above outline with many details towards the goal of:

“This exciting new field of transgenerational epigenomics will facilitate the development of novel strategies to predict, prevent and treat negative epigenetic consequences on offspring health, and psychiatric disorders in particular.”

The reviewers also demonstrated that current intergenerational and transgenerational research paradigms exclude a father’s child care behavior.

The fact that studies use rat and mouse species where fathers don’t naturally provide care for their offspring has warped the translation of findings to humans. The underlying question every animal study must answer is: how can its information be used to help humans? I asked in A limited study of parental transmission of anxiety/stress-reactive traits:

“How did parental behavioral transmission of behavioral traits and epigenetic changes become a subject not worth investigating? These traits and effects can be seen everyday in real-life human interactions, and in every human’s physiology.

Who among us doesn’t still have biological and behavioral consequences from our experiences of our father’s child care actions and inactions? Why can’t researchers and sponsors investigate these back to their sources that may include grandparents and great-grandparents?

Such efforts weren’t apparent in the review’s 116 cited references that included:

The reviewer in the latter has been instrumental in excluding behavioral inheritance mechanisms from these research paradigms, leading to my questions:

  1. “If the experimental subjects had no more control over their behavioral stress-response effects than they had over their DNA methylation, histone modification, or microRNA stress-response effects, then why was such behavior not included in the “epigenetic mechanisms” term?
  2. How do behavioral inheritance mechanisms fall outside the “true epigenetic inheritance” term when behavioral stress-response effects are shown to be reliably transmitted generation after generation?
  3. Wouldn’t the cessation of behavioral inheritance mechanisms confirm their status by falsifiability as was similarly done with studies such as the 1995 Adoption reverses the long-term impairment in glucocorticoid feedback induced by prenatal stress?”

Translating rodent studies into human mothers’ behavioral transmission of biological and behavioral phenotypes isn’t hampered by the studied species’ traits as it is for human fathers. But sponsors would have to support human research that may not produce politically-correct findings. provides an inter-species comparative timeline. For example, an input of:

  • Species 1: Human
  • Process: Lifespan
  • Location: Whole Organism
  • Days (post-conception): 270
  • Species 2: Mouse

produces a list of event predictions. Note how many significant events occur before humans are born at day 270, assuming everything goes right with our developmental processes! Also, the model predictions for humans end at post-conception day 979, three weeks short of when we celebrate our second birthday. “Transgenerational epigenetic influences of paternal environmental exposures on brain function and predisposition to psychiatric disorders” (not freely available) Thanks to Dr. Shlomo Yeshurun for providing a full copy.

Dealing with big data in epigenetic studies

There’s been a long-standing need for tools and mathematical techniques which effectively deal with the large amount of data present in epigenetic studies. Complete experimental conditions and results aren’t accurately described when researchers fail to transform large sets of data into information.

This 2018 Baltimore review/promotional paper described an approach that promised to resolve the following data issues.

1. Epigenetic changes occur in many ways and areas, and they often aren’t isolated from each other:

“Fully characterizing the polymorphic and stochastic nature of DNA methylation requires specification of joint probability distributions of methylation patterns formed by sets of spatially coupled CpG sites.”

2. The absence of DNA methylation provides a signal that should be processed into information. A study of DNA methylation and age reported this situation as:

“Due to the methods applied in the present study, not all the effects of DNA methylation on gene expression could be detected; this limitation is also true for previously reported results.

The textbook case of DNA methylation regulating gene expression (the methylation of a promoter and silencing of a gene) remains undetected in many cases because in an array analysis, an unexpressed gene shows no signal that can be distinguished from background and is therefore typically omitted from the analysis.”

The current review described the problem as:

“These techniques assign zero probabilities to unobserved methylation patterns despite their biological plausibility, which results in underestimating the true biological heterogeneity of methylation patterns.”

3. A subset of the above is that unknown or random past causes and effects of epigenetic changes aren’t adequately modeled:

“..We demonstrated..that the empirical approach to joint methylation analysis..does not perform well when dealing with highly stochastic methylation data.”

The paper’s approach is tailored for whole genome bisulfite sequencing (WGBS), the “gold-standard experimental technique for studying DNA methylation.” It’s named informME and is publicly available at “An information-theoretic approach to the modeling and analysis of whole-genome bisulfite sequencing data”

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”