Restoration of a “normal” epigenetic landscape

This 2018 Texas human review subject was prostate cancer epigenetics:

“We comprehensively review the up-to-date roles of epigenetics in the development and progression of prostate cancer. We especially focus on three epigenetic mechanisms: DNA methylation, histone modifications, and noncoding RNAs. We elaborate on current models/theories that explain the necessity of these epigenetic programs in driving the malignant phenotypes of prostate cancer cells.

It is now generally accepted that epigenetics contributes to the development of nearly every stage of PCa [prostate cancer]. Considering the highly heterogeneous nature of PCa, it is quite likely that [the] effect of a particular epigenetic pattern on growth of cancer cells varies from case to case and [is] context specific.

Restoration of a “normal” epigenetic landscape holds promise as a cure for prostate cancer.”


The review’s Epigenetic Therapy section explained much of what’s going on in the above graphic. Its Table 3 was instructive for up-to-date clinical trial information on epigenetic treatments of prostate cancer.

“Restoration of a “normal” epigenetic landscape” won’t guarantee a healthy outcome once diseases start. Prevention seems desirable, especially to avoid:

“Numerous epigenetic alterations [that] reinforce the establishment of a context-specific transcriptional profile that favors self-renewal, survival, and invasion of PCa cells.”

http://www.ajandrology.com/preprintarticle.asp?id=238758 “Epigenetic regulation of prostate cancer: the theories and the clinical implications”

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A study of our evolutionary remnants

This 2018 Michigan human cell study subject was factors affecting the expression of human endogenous retroviruses:

“We provide a comprehensive genomic and epigenomic map of the more than 500,000 endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) and fragments that populate the intergenic regions of the human genome.

The repressive epigenetic marks associated with the ERVs, particularly long terminal repeats (LTRs), show a remarkable switch in silencing mechanisms, depending on the evolutionary age of the LTRs:

  • Young LTRs tend to be CpG-rich and are mainly suppressed by DNA methylation, whereas
  • Intermediate age LTRs are associated predominantly with histone modifications, particularly histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9) methylation.
  • The evolutionarily old LTRs are more likely inactivated by the accumulation of loss-of-function genetic mutations.

Because the expression of ERVs is potentially dangerous to the host cell, understanding the repressive mechanisms is important. Earlier studies have implicated the aberrant expression of ERVs in autoimmune disease pathogenesis. However, this “enemy within” may also play a beneficial role in cancer therapy.

The same kinds of chromatin dynamics appear to be used both by LTRs and genes.”


I wasn’t going to curate this study before I saw the above graphic of our Boreoeutherian ancestor. Evolutionary subjects seem very abstract until an artist reconstructs the data visually.

https://genome.cshlp.org/content/early/2018/07/03/gr.234229.118.full.pdf “Switching roles for DNA and histone methylation depend on evolutionary ages of human endogenous retroviruses” (not freely available)

Starving awakens ancient parasite DNA within us

This 2018 Italian human cell study conducted a series of experiments on the effects of nutrient deprivation:

“Reduced food intake, and in particular protein or amino acid (AA) restriction, extends lifespan and healthspan.

We have previously shown that, in mammalian cells, deprivation of essential AAs (methionine/cysteine or tyrosine) leads to the transcriptional reactivation of integrated silenced transgenes by a process involving epigenetic chromatic remodeling and histone acetylation.

Here we show that the deprivation of methionine/cysteine also leads to the transcriptional upregulation of endogenous retroviruses [ERVs], suggesting that essential AA starvation affects the expression not only of exogenous non-native DNA sequences, but also of endogenous anciently-integrated and silenced parasitic elements of the genome.

ERVs, comprising 8% of the human genome, represent the remnants of past infections of germ cells by exogenous retroviruses, and are mostly unable to retrotranspose in the human genome. However, they can reactivate during physiological development, or in pathological conditions like cancer, and regulate the expression of nearby genes by their LTR elements, leading to general transcriptional reprogramming.

Dissection of the underlying mechanism ruled out a role for the main AA-deficiency sensor GCN2 and pointed to the ribosome as the possible master controller.”


The study found that reality is sometimes stranger than what fiction writers dream up. 🙂

The authors cited a 2016 Danish review I hadn’t previously curated:

https://www.nature.com/articles/nrendo.2016.87 “The role of diet and exercise in the transgenerational epigenetic landscape of T2DM” (not freely available)

Contrary to what’s implied by its title, though, and as I noted in How to hijack science: Ignore its intent and focus on the 0.0001%, those reviewers didn’t cite any human studies that adequately demonstrated transgenerational epigenetic inheritance causes and effects. They admitted:

“Direct evidence that epigenetic factors drive the inheritance of T2DM [type 2 diabetes mellitus] in humans is lacking.”

then went on as is if such proof was a foregone conclusion.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0200783 “Amino acid deprivation triggers a novel GCN2-independent response leading to the transcriptional reactivation of non-native DNA sequences”

A dietary supplement that trains the innate immune system

This 2018 Netherlands review topic was the long-term epigenetic programming of the innate immune system:

“Immunological memory has been classically described for the adaptive immune system, in which naive B and T lymphocytes develop antigen-specific, long-lasting memory cells after encountering a new antigen.

Immunological memory is not an exclusive trait of lymphocytes. The function of cells from the innate immune system, such as monocytes, macrophages, dendritic cells, and NK cells, is also influenced by the contact with different stimuli, undergoing functional reprogramming.

β-glucan, the prototypical trained immunity-inducing agonist:

  • Modulates hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells, influencing the behavior and responsiveness of peripheral myeloid cells;
  • Leads to a shift of cellular metabolism from oxidative phosphorylation toward aerobic glycolysis.

Analysis of transcriptional data from macrophages stimulated with β-glucan revealed that the cholesterol synthesis pathway is highly up-regulated in trained immunity. A follow-up of this study showed that the activation of the cholesterol synthesis pathway, but not its synthesis itself, is crucial for innate memory. In agreement with this, the inhibition of cholesterol synthesis in mice reduced the induction of trained immunity by β-glucan.

β-glucan-induced changes in trimethylation of histone 3 lysine 4 (H3K4me3) and acetylation of histone 3 lysine 27 (H3K27ac) in human monocytes 7 days after the first stimulation in vitro were associated with a switch to glycolysis, suggesting a deep, long lasting reprogramming of the cells.

Inducers of cellular reprogramming such as β-glucan have shown potential as a treatment or adjuvant for osteosarcoma, influenza, or skin lesions, among others.”


β-glucan is available as a supplement at $.17 a day and through eating oatmeal and barley. Why don’t cereal companies advertise the immune system benefits of their products?

https://jlb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/JLB.MR0318-104R “Long-term reprogramming of the innate immune system” (not freely available)

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.

BAT variability

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.

Edit 8/13/2018: I substituted the authors’ corrected graphic where the calendar month started with April vs. January.

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)

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)