Developmental disorders and the epigenetic clock

This 2019 UK/Canada/Germany human study investigated thirteen developmental disorders to identify genes that changed aspects of the epigenetic clock:

“Sotos syndrome accelerates epigenetic aging [+7.64 years]. Sotos syndrome is caused by loss-of-function mutations in the NSD1 gene, which encodes a histone H3 lysine 36 (H3K36) methyltransferase.

This leads to a phenotype which can include:

  • Prenatal and postnatal overgrowth,
  • Facial gestalt,
  • Advanced bone age,
  • Developmental delay,
  • Higher cancer predisposition, and, in some cases,
  • Heart defects.

Many of these characteristics could be interpreted as aging-like, identifying Sotos syndrome as a potential human model of accelerated physiological aging.

This research will shed some light on the different processes that erode the human epigenetic landscape during aging and provide a new hypothesis about the mechanisms behind the epigenetic aging clock.”

“Proposed model that highlights the role of H3K36 methylation maintenance on epigenetic aging:

  • The H3K36me2/3 mark allows recruiting de novo DNA methyltransferases DNMT3A (in green) and DNMT3B (not shown).
  • DNA methylation valleys (DMVs) are conserved genomic regions that are normally found hypomethylated.
  • During aging, the H3K36 methylation machinery could become less efficient at maintaining the H3K36me2/3 landscape.
  • This would lead to a relocation of de novo DNA methyltransferases from their original genomic reservoirs (which would become hypomethylated) to other non-specific regions such as DMVs (which would become hypermethylated and potentially lose their normal boundaries),
  • With functional consequences for the tissues.”

The researchers improved methodologies of several techniques:

  1. “Previous attempts to account for technical variation have used the first 5 principal components estimated directly from the DNA methylation data. However, this approach potentially removes meaningful biological variation. For the first time, we have shown that it is possible to use the control probes from the 450K array to readily correct for batch effects in the context of the epigenetic clock, which reduces the error associated with the predictions and decreases the likelihood of reporting a false positive.
  2. We have confirmed the suspicion that Horvath’s model underestimates epigenetic age for older ages and assessed the impact of this bias in the screen for epigenetic age acceleration.
  3. Because of the way that the Horvath epigenetic clock was trained, it is likely that its constituent 353 CpG sites are a low-dimensional representation of the different genome-wide processes that are eroding the epigenome with age. Our analysis has shown that these 353 CpG sites are characterized by a higher Shannon entropy when compared with the rest of the genome, which is dramatically decreased in the case of Sotos patients.”

https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-019-1753-9 “Screening for genes that accelerate the epigenetic aging clock in humans reveals a role for the H3K36 methyltransferase NSD1”

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Perinatal stress and sex differences in circadian activity

This 2019 French/Italian rodent study used the PRS model to investigate its effects on circadian activity:

“The aim of this study was to explore the influence of PRS on the circadian oscillations of gene expression in the SCN [suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus] and on circadian locomotor behavior, in a sex-dependent manner.

Research on transcriptional rhythms has shown that more than half of all genes in the human and rodent genome follow a circadian pattern. We focused on genes belonging to four functional classes, namely the circadian clock, HPA axis stress response regulation, signaling and glucose metabolism in male and female adult PRS rats.

Our findings provide evidence for a specific profile of dysmasculinization induced by PRS at the behavioral and molecular level, thus advocating the necessity to include sex as a biological variable to study the set-up of circadian system in animal models.”

“There was a clear-cut effect of sex on the effect of PRS on the levels of activity:

  • During the period of lower activity (light phase), both CONT and PRS females were more active than males. During the light phase, PRS increased activity in males, which reached levels of CONT females.
  • More interestingly, during the period of activity (dark phase), male PRS rats were more active than male CONT rats. In contrast, female PRS rats were less active than CONT females.
  • During the dark phase, CONT female rats were less active than CONT male rats.

The study presented evidence for sex differences in circadian activity of first generation offspring that was caused by stress experienced by the pregnant mother:

“Exposure to gestational stress and altered maternal behavior programs a life-long disruption in the reactive adaptation such as:

  •  A hyperactive response to stress and
  • A defective feedback of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis together with
  • Long-lasting modifications in stress/anti-stress gene expression balance in the hippocampus.”

It would advance science if these researchers carried out experiments to two more generations to investigate possible transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of effects caused by PRS. What intergenerational and transgenerational effects would they possibly find by taking a few more months and extending research efforts to F2 and F3 generations? Wouldn’t these findings likely help humans?

One aspect of the study was troubling. One of the marginally-involved coauthors is funded by the person described in How one person’s paradigms regarding stress and epigenetics impedes relevant research. Although no part of the current study was sponsored by that person, there were three gratuitous citations of their work.

All three citations were reviews. Unlike study researchers, reviewers aren’t bound to demonstrate evidence from tested hypotheses. Reviewers are free to:

  • Express their beliefs as facts;
  • Over- and under- emphasize study limitations; and, most importantly,
  • Disregard and misrepresent evidence as they see fit.

Comparisons of reviews with Cochrane meta-analyses of the same subjects consistently show the extent of reviewers’ biases. Reviewers also aren’t obligated to make post-publication corrections for their errors and distortions.

As such, reviews can’t be cited for reliable evidence. Higher-quality studies that were more relevant and recent than 1993 could have elucidated points.

Sucking up to the boss and endorsing their paradigm was predictable. Since that coauthor couldn’t constrain themself to funder citations only in funder studies, the other coauthors could have intervened and edited out unnecessary citations.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnmol.2019.00089/full “Perinatal Stress Programs Sex Differences in the Behavioral and Molecular Chronobiological Profile of Rats Maintained Under a 12-h Light-Dark Cycle”

Infant DNA methylation and caregiving

This 2019 US human study attempted to replicate findings of animal studies that associated caregiver behavior with infant DNA methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor gene:

“Greater levels of maternal responsiveness and appropriate touch were related to less DNA methylation of specific regions in NR3c1 exon 1F, but only for females. There was no association with maternal responsiveness and appropriate touch or DNA methylation of NR3c1 exon 1F on prestress cortisol or cortisol reactivity. Our results are discussed in relation to programming models that implicate maternal care as an important factor in programing infant stress reactivity.”


The study had many undisclosed and a few disclosed limitations, one of which was:

“Our free-play session, while consistent with the length of free-play sessions in other studies, was short (5 min). It is unclear whether a longer length of time would have yielded significant different maternal responsiveness and appropriate touch data.”

The final sentence showed the study’s purpose was other than discovering factual evidence:

“Following replication of this work, it could ultimately be used in conjunction with early intervention, or home-visiting programs, to measure the strength of the intervention effect at the epigenetic level.”

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/imhj.21789 “DNA methylation of NR3c1 in infancy: Associations between maternal caregiving and infant sex” (not freely available)

The transgenerational impact of Roundup exposure

This 2019 Washington rodent study from Dr. Michael Skinner’s lab found adverse effects in the grand-offspring and great-grand-offspring following their ancestor’s exposure during pregnancy to the world’s most commonly used herbicide:

“Using a transient exposure of gestating F0 generation female rats found negligible impacts of glyphosate on the directly exposed F0 generation, or F1 generation offspring pathology. In contrast, dramatic increases in pathologies in the F2 generation grand-offspring, and F3 transgenerational great-grand-offspring were observed.

The transgenerational pathologies observed include prostate disease, obesity, kidney disease, ovarian disease, and parturition (birth) abnormalities:

  1. Prostate disease in approximately 30% of F3 generation glyphosate lineage males, a three-fold increase in disease rate over controls.
  2. A transgenerational (F3 generation) obese phenotype was observed in approximately 40% of the glyphosate lineage females and 42% of the glyphosate lineage males.
  3. An increased incidence of kidney disease observed in the F3 generation glyphosate lineage females affecting nearly 40% of females.
  4. A significant increase in ovarian disease observed in the F2 [48% vs. 21% for controls] and F3 [36% vs. 15% for controls] generation glyphosate lineage females.
  5. During the gestation of F2 generation mothers with the F3 generation fetuses, dramatic parturition abnormalities were observed in the glyphosate lineage. The frequency of unsuccessful parturition was 35%. To further investigate the parturition abnormalities an outcross of F3 generation glyphosate lineage males with a wildtype female was performed. There were parturition abnormalities observed with a frequency of 30%.

Classic and current toxicology studies only involve direct exposure of the individual, while impacts on future generations are not assessed. The ability of glyphosate and other environmental toxicants to impact our future generations needs to be considered, and is potentially as important as the direct exposure toxicology done today for risk assessment.”


Why isn’t coverage of this study the top story of the world’s news organizations? Is what’s reported more important than reliable evidence of generational consequences to environmental experiences?

Current toxicology practices are a scientific disgrace:

  • What are the hypotheses of practices that only test effects on somatic cells, that don’t look for generational effects of germ cell modifications?
  • Are they selected for their relative convenience instead of chosen for their efficacy?

Why don’t sponsors fund and researchers perform human studies of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance? For example, from Burying human transgenerational epigenetic evidence:

“From the late 1930s through the early 1970s, DES was given to nearly two million pregnant women in the US alone.

Fourth [F3] generation effects of prenatal exposures in humans have not been reported.

Zero studies of probably more than 10,000,000 F3 great-grandchildren of DES-exposed women just here in the US!

There will be abundant human evidence to discover if sponsors and researchers will take their fields seriously.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-42860-0.pdf “Assessment of Glyphosate Induced Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Pathologies and Sperm Epimutations: Generational Toxicology”

Epigenetic transgenerational inheritance mechanisms that lead to prostate disease

This 2019 Washington rodent study found:

“Ancestral exposure to the toxicant vinclozolin induces an epigenetic transgenerational increase in susceptibility to prostate pathology in F3 [male great-grandchildren] generation rats. These results are in agreement with previous studies which found a transgenerational increase in rates of prostatic epithelial atrophy, cystic hyperplasia, and prostatitis in the transgenerational F3 and F4 [male great-great-grandchildren] generations after exposure of F0 [great-great-grandmother] generation pregnant rats to vinclozolin. These effects were accompanied by transgenerational changes in mRNA expression in F3 generation ventral prostate epithelial cells.

A number of previous transgenerational studies have shown no ventral prostate histopathology or disease detected. Therefore, observations suggest ancestral exposure specificity in the ability to induce the transgenerational inheritance of prostate disease.

There was also no increase in prostate histopathology in the directly exposed F1 [male children] or F2 [male grandchildren] generation vinclozolin lineage rats compared to controls.

prostate pathology

The mechanism by which epigenetic transgenerational inheritance affects prostate epithelium involves control of gene expression by DNA methylation and lncRNAs. It will be necessary to determine the exact gene targets of these epigenetic modifications to determine further mechanisms.

Future studies need to investigate if similar mechanisms are at work in human males who have adult-onset BPH or prostate cancer. Ancestral exposures to toxicants and epigenetic transgenerational inheritance may contribute to the development of prostate disease in men today.”


The study’s above bolded sentence added to the evidence that epigenetic effects may skip generations. A study by the same group, Epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of ovarian disease, found in females:

There was no increase in ovarian disease in direct fetal exposed F1 or germline exposed F2 generation vinclozolin or DDT lineage rats compared to controls.

A disturbance in the paradigm of child abuse referenced other studies that found generation-skipping effects.

Serious researchers are closer to discovering evidence for precise mechanisms of epigenetic transgenerational inheritance. It’s well past time that other researchers performing studies like Burying human transgenerational epigenetic evidence take their work seriously enough to truly investigate human evidence for epigenetic transgenerational inheritance.

What are more important funding priorities than such human studies?

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-38741-1 “Environmental Toxicant Induced Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Prostate Pathology and Stromal-Epithelial Cell Epigenome and Transcriptome Alterations: Ancestral Origins of Prostate Disease”

Epigenetic causes of sexual orientation and handedness?

This 2018 Austrian human study subject was various associations of prenatal testosterone levels to fetal development:

“The available evidence suggests, albeit not conclusively, that prenatal testosterone levels may be one cause for the association of sexual orientation with handedness. Associations among women were consistent with predictions of the Geschwind–Galaburda theory (GGT), whereas those among men were consistent with predictions of the callosal hypothesis. However, research on the associations between sexual orientation and handedness appears to be compromised by various methodological and interpretational problems which need to be overcome to arrive at a clearer picture.

The GGT posits that high prenatal testosterone levels cause a delay in the fetal development of the left cerebral hemisphere which results in a right-hemisphere dominance and hence in a tendency for left-handedness. According to the GGT, high prenatal testosterone levels entail not only a masculinization of the female fetus, but also a feminization of the male fetus (contrary to neurohormonal theory). Overall, the male fetus is subjected to higher levels of intrauterine testosterone than the female fetus. The GGT is thus consistent with the higher prevalence of left-handedness among men than among women.

The callosal hypothesis applies to men only and assumes, in line with neurohormonal theory, that low prenatal testosterone levels are associated with later homosexuality. According to the CH, high prenatal testosterone enhances processes of cerebral lateralization through mechanisms of axonal pruning, thereby resulting in stronger left-hemisphere dominance and a smaller corpus callosum. Consistent with this, women have a larger corpus callosum than men.”


The study’s Limitations section included the following:

  1. “Limitations of the current study pertain to the self-report nature of our data. Behavioral data may provide differing results from those obtained here.
  2. Assessment of sexual orientation relied on a single-item measure. Utilization of rating scales (e.g., the Kinsey Sexual Orientation Scale) or of multi-item scales, and assessing different components of sexual orientation, would have allowed for a more fine-grained analysis and for a cross-validation of sexual orientation ratings with sexual attraction.
  3. Albeit both our samples were large, the proportions of bisexual and homosexual individuals were, expectedly, only small, as were effects of lateral preferences. Thus, in analysis we could not differentiate bisexual from homosexual individuals. Bisexual and homosexual individuals may differ with regard to the distribution of lateral preferences.
  4. Some effect tests in this study have been underpowered. Independent replications with even larger samples are still needed.”

The largest unstated limitation was no fetal measurements. When a fetus’ epigenetic responses and adaptations aren’t considered, not only can the two competing hypotheses not be adequately compared, but causes for the studied phenotypic programming and other later-life effects will also be missed.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-018-1346-9 “Associations of Bisexuality and Homosexuality with Handedness and Footedness: A Latent Variable Analysis Approach”

Adverse epigenetic effects of prenatal and perinatal anesthesia

This 2018 Chinese animal review subject was prenatal and perinatal anesthesia’s adverse epigenetic effects on a fetus/neonate:

“Accumulating evidence from rodent and primate studies has demonstrated that in utero or neonatal exposure to commonly used inhaled and intravenous general anesthetics is associated with neural degeneration and subsequent neurocognitive impairments, manifested in learning and memory disabilities.

So far, conflicting data exist about the effect of anesthetic agents on neurodevelopment in humans and no definite conclusion has been given yet.”

The inhibitors in the above graphic counter anesthesia’s effects on the fetus/neonate, summarized as:

“Epigenetic targeting of DNA methyltransferases and/or histone deacetylases may have some therapeutic value.”


Are there any physicians who take into consideration possible epigenetic alterations of a newborn’s chromatin structure and gene expression when they administer anesthesia to a human mother during childbirth?

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6079265/ “Epigenetic Alterations in Anesthesia-Induced Neurotoxicity in the Developing Brain”