Epigenetics account for two-thirds of Alzheimer’s disease

The genetics percentage from a 2017 summary of Alzheimer’s disease research caught my eye:

“Although numerous single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have now been robustly associated with AD via genome-wide association studies and subsequent meta-analyses, collectively these common SNPs are believed to only account for 33% of attributable risk and the mechanism behind their action remains largely unknown.”

This citation aligned with other studies’ findings per Using twins to estimate the extent of epigenetic effects that on cellular levels, our experiences account for two-thirds of who we are.

The promise of this category of epigenetics research?

“One of the most exciting aspects of identifying disease-associated epigenomic dysfunction is that these mechanisms are potentially reversible.”

Let’s make research on reversing epigenetic changes a priority for funding, and get studies underway here in 2017!

https://www.epigenomicsnet.com/users/27784-katie-lunnon/posts/14634-robust-evidence-for-dna-methylomic-variation-in-alzheimer-s-disease “Robust evidence for DNA methylomic variation in Alzheimer’s disease” (Registration required)

Epigenetics and addiction

Dr. Moshe Szyf of McGill University explains current rodent epigenetic research into addiction in this October 2016 interview.

“What happens during the time when there’s no drug [cocaine] exposure, there’s just the memory of the original drug exposure? And we found huge epigenetics changes during this time, the time of abstinence.

It actually suggests that abstinence cannot cure addiction. It might even aggravate it.

We found out that timing is very important. Pairing the drug [a DNA methylation inhibitor] administration with the cue was critical with reversing the epigenetic effects and the behavioral effects.

Epigenetic treatment should theoretically reprogram the animal to forget or erase the epigenetic consequences of the initial exposure. And therefore the animal should be protected from addiction for a long time if indeed we found what we thought we did with epigenetic reprogramming.”


On Primal Therapy with Drs. Art and France Janov

Experiential feeling therapy addressing the pain of the lack of love.

Genetic imprinting, sleep, and parent-offspring conflict

This 2016 Italian review subject was the interplay of genetic imprinting and sleep regulation:

“Sleep results from the synergism between at least two major processes: a homeostatic regulatory mechanism that depends on the accumulation of the sleep drive during wakefulness, and a circadian self-sustained mechanism that sets the time for sleeping and waking throughout the 24-hour daily cycle.

REM sleep apparently contravenes the restorative aspects of sleep; however, the function of this ‘paradoxical’ state remains unknown. Although REM sleep may serve important functions, a lack of REM sleep has no major consequences for survival in humans; however, severe detrimental effects have been observed in rats.

Opposite imprinting defects at chromosome 15q11–13 are responsible for opposite sleep phenotypes as well as opposite neurodevelopmental abnormalities, namely the Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) and the Angelman syndrome (AS). Whilst the PWS is due to loss of paternal expression of alleles, the AS is due to loss of maternal expression.

Maternal additions or paternal deletions of alleles at chromosome 15q11–13 are characterized by temperature control abnormalities, excessive sleepiness, and specific sleep architecture changes, particularly REM sleep deficits. Conversely, paternal additions or maternal deletions at chromosome 15q11–13 are characterized by reductions in sleep and frequent and prolonged night wakings.

The ‘genomic imprinting hypothesis of sleep’ remains in its infancy, and several aspects require attention and further investigation.”

http://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1006004 “Genomic Imprinting: A New Epigenetic Perspective of Sleep Regulation”

A commenter to the review referenced a 2014 study Troubled sleep: night waking, breastfeeding, and parent–offspring conflict that received several reactions, including one by the same commenter. Here are a few quotes from the study author’s consolidated response:

“‘Troubled sleep’ had two major purposes. The first was to draw attention to the oppositely perturbed sleep of infants with PWS and AS and explore its evolutionary implications. The involvement of imprinted genes suggests that infant sleep has been subject to antagonistic selection on genes of maternal and paternal origin with genes of maternal origin favoring less disrupted sleep.

My second major purpose was a critique of the idea that children would be happier, healthier and better-adjusted if we could only return to natural methods of child care. This way of thinking is often accompanied by a belief that modern practices put children at risk of irrevocable harm. The truth of such claims is ultimately an empirical question, but the claims are sometimes presented as if they had the imprimatur of evolutionary biology. This appeal to scientific authority often seems to misrepresent what evolutionary theory predicts: that which evolves is not necessarily that which is healthy.

Why should pregnancy not be more efficient and more robust than other physiological systems, rather than less? Crucial checks, balances and feedback controls are lacking in the shared physiology of the maternal–fetal unit.

Infant sleep may similarly lack the exquisite organization of systems without evolutionary conflict. Postnatal development, like prenatal development, is subject to difficulties of evolutionarily credible communication between mothers and offspring.”

The author addressed comments related to attachment theory:

“Infants are classified as having insecure-resistant attachment if they maintain close proximity to their mother after a brief separation while expressing negative emotions and exhibiting contradictory behaviors that seem to both encourage and resist interaction. By contrast, infants are classified as having insecure-avoidant attachment if they do not express negative emotion and avoid contact with their mother after reunion.

Insecure-avoidant and insecure-resistant behaviors might be considered antithetic accommodations of infants to less responsive mothers; the former associated with reduced demands on maternal attention, the latter with increased demands. A parallel pattern is seen in effects on maternal sleep. Insecure-avoidant infants wake their mothers less frequently, and insecure-resistant infants more frequently, than securely attached infants.

Parent–child interactions are transformed once children can speak. Infants with more fragmented sleep at 6 months had less language at 18 and 30 months. Infants with AS have unconsolidated sleep and never learn to speak. The absence of language in the absence of expression of one or more MEGs [maternally expressed imprinted genes] is compatible with a hypothesis in which earlier development of language reduces infant demands on mothers.”

Regarding cultural differences:

“China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have both high rates of bed-sharing and high rates of problematic sleep compared with western countries. Within this grouping, however, more children sleep in their own room but parents report fewer sleep problems in Hong Kong than in either China or Taiwan. Clearly, cultural differences are significant, and the causes of this variation should be investigated, but the differences cannot be summarized simply as ‘west is worst’.

The fitness [genetic rather than physical fitness] gain to mothers of an extra child and the benefits for infants of longer IBIs [interbirth intervals] are substantial. These selective forces are unlikely to be orders of magnitude weaker than the advantages of lactase persistence, yet the selective forces associated with dairying have been sufficient to result in adaptive genetic differentiation among populations. The possibility of gene–culture coevolution should not be discounted for behaviors associated with infant-care practices.”

Regarding a mismatch between modern and ancestral environments:

“I remain skeptical of a tendency to ascribe most modern woes to incongruence between our evolved nature and western cultural practices. We did not evolve to be happy or healthy but to leave genetic descendants, and an undue emphasis on mismatch risks conflating health and fitness.

McKenna [a commenter] writes ‘It isn’t really nice nor maybe even possible to fool mother nature.’ Here I disagree. Our genetic adaptations often try to fool us into doing things that enhance fitness at costs to our happiness.

Our genes do not care about us and we should have no compunction about fooling them to deliver benefits without serving their ends. Contraception, to take one obvious example, allows those who choose childlessness to enjoy the pleasures of sexual activity without the fitness-enhancing risk of conception.

Night waking evolved in environments in which there were strong fitness costs from short IBIs and in which parents lacked artificial means of birth-spacing. If night waking evolved because it prolonged IBIs, then it may no longer serve the ends for which it evolved.

Nevertheless, optimal infant development might continue to depend on frequent night feeds as part of our ingrained evolutionary heritage. It could also be argued that when night waking is not reinforced by feeding, and infants sleep through the night, then conflict within their genomes subsides. Infants would then gain the benefit of unfragmented sleep without the pleiotropic costs of intragenomic conflict. Plausible arguments could be presented for either hypothesis and a choice between them must await discriminating evidence.”

Commenters on the 2014 study also said:

[Crespi] The profound implications of Haig’s insights into the roles of evolutionary conflicts in fetal, infant and maternal health are matched only by the remarkable absence of understanding, appreciation or application of such evolutionary principles among the research and clinical medical communities, or the general public.

[Wilkins] A mutation may be selected for its effect on the trait that is the basis of the conflict, but that mutation also likely affects other traits. In general, we expect that these pleiotropic effects to be deleterious: conflict over one trait can actually drive other traits to be less adapted. Natural selection does not necessarily guarantee positive health outcomes.

[McNamara] Assuming that AS/REM is differentially influenced by genes of paternal origin then both REM properties and REM-associated awakenings can be better explained by mechanisms of genomic conflict than by traditional claims that REM functions as an anti-predator ‘sentinel’ for the sleeping organism.

[Hinde] Given this context of simultaneous coordination and conflict between mother and infant, distinguishing honest signals of infant need from self-interested, care-extracting signals poses a challenge.

The persistence of epigenetic marks in Type 1 diabetes

This 2016 California human study found:

“A persistency of DNA methylation over time at key genomic loci associated with diabetic complications. Two sets of DNAs collected at least 16–17 years apart from the same participants are used to show the persistency of DNA-me over time.

Twelve annotated differentially methylated loci were common in both WB [whole blood] and Monos [blood monocytes], including thioredoxin-interacting protein (TXNIP), known to be associated with hyperglycemia and related complications.

The top 38 hyperacetylated promoters in cases included 15 genes associated with the nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB) inflammatory pathway, which is strongly associated with diabetic complications.”

The researchers built on a series of studies that showed how subjects with early intensive interventions didn’t develop further complications, whereas subjects with later intensive interventions:

“Continued to develop complications, such as nephropathy, retinopathy, and macrovascular diseases, at significantly higher rates.

This persistence of benefit from early application of intensive therapy, called ‘metabolic memory,’ is an enigma.”

I’d say that the researchers needed to also consider a point of Enduring memories? Or continuous toxic stimulation? that:

“The lasting epigenomic effect would not be due to memory, but continuous stimulation by persistent pathogens or persistent components.”

Other studies that involved specific genes of this study include:

http://www.pnas.org/content/113/21/E3002.full “Epigenomic profiling reveals an association between persistence of DNA methylation and metabolic memory in the DCCT/EDIC type 1 diabetes cohort”


Enduring epigenetic memories? Or continuous toxic stimulation?

This 2016 review subject was bacterial infections that result in long-lasting memories:

“Virulence factors modify the epigenomic landscape through targeting of host signaling cascades, or chromatin complexes directly. Additionally, some bacterial factors have intrinsic catalytic activity enabling them to directly modify chromatin.

Virus, fungi, and parasites also induce similar processes.

Epigenomic changes are not the only possible marks contributing to epigenetic memory. Every inducible change that is not rapidly reversed has the potential to maintain a lasting effect.

Most studies in this field have been performed in vitro with fully terminally differentiated cells such as epithelial cells. Since in such cell types cell fate is already established and a short lifespan often occurs in vivo, this raises the question of whether such memory would be relevant for these cells. The same can be applied to differentiated innate immune cells, which also have a short lifetime.

Looking at the response of undifferentiated cells such as stem cells appears much more appropriate to further explore the concept of innate immune memory.”

From the Conclusions and Perspectives section:

“The lasting potential of chromatin marks depends not only on the kinetics of the epigenome, but also on the stimulus itself. For example, in contrast to LPS [lipopolysaccharide, the major constituent of the cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria], which is rapidly cleared from the organism, BCG and the anthrax toxin may persist in the host organism.

The lasting epigenomic effect would not be due to memory, but continuous stimulation by persistent pathogens or persistent components.”

This last point emphasized the principle that damaging sources should be addressed. Enduring epigenetic memories may be symptoms rather than causes when toxic conditions persist. One possible reason why therapies that reverse epigenetic changes may not prove to be effective is that these epigenetic memories may not be the only causes of continuing damage.

I downgraded this review’s rating both because it’s behind a paywall, and because the reviewers made this curious statement:

“We apologize to colleagues whose work was not cited here due to reference restrictions.”

Why did the reviewers submit their work to a journal which imposed such restrictions?

“A Lasting Impression: Epigenetic Memory of Bacterial Infections?”

Epigenetic remodeling creates immune system memory

Innate immune memory

This 2016 German review was of the memory characteristics of immune cells:

“Innate immune memory has likely evolved as an ancient mechanism to protect against pathogens. However, dysregulated processes of immunological imprinting mediated by trained innate immunity may also be detrimental under certain conditions.

Evidence is rapidly accumulating that innate immune cells can adopt a persistent pro-inflammatory phenotype after brief exposure to a variety of stimuli, a phenomenon that has been termed ‘trained innate immunity.’ The epigenome of myeloid (progenitor) cells is presumably modified for prolonged periods of time, which, in turn, could evoke a condition of continuous immune cell over-activation.”

The reviewers focused on the particular example of atherosclerosis, although other examples were discussed of epigenetic remodeling to acquire immune memory:

“In the last ten years, several novel non-traditional risk factors for atherosclerosis have been identified that are all associated with activation of the immune system. These include chronic inflammatory diseases such as:

as well as infections with bacteria or viruses.”

The reviewers also discussed diet, mainly of various diets’ negative effects. On the positive side, I was interested to see a study referenced that used a common dietary supplement:

“Pathway analysis of the promoters that were potentiated by β-glucan identified several innate immune and signaling pathways upregulated in trained cells that are responsible for the induction of trained immunity.”

Other research into the epigenetic remodeling of immune system memory includes:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1044532316300185 “Long-term activation of the innate immune system in atherosclerosis”