A rejuvenation therapy and sulforaphane

The founder of the epigenetic clock methodology with the coauthor of Aging as an unintended consequence released a 2020 rodent study “Reversing age: dual species measurement of epigenetic age with a single clock” at https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.07.082917v1.full.pdf:

“We employed six clocks to investigate the rejuvenation effects of a plasma fraction treatment in different rat tissues. Two of these epigenetic clocks apply to both humans and rats.

The treatment more than halved the epigenetic ages of blood, heart, and liver tissue. A less pronounced, but statistically significant, rejuvenation effect could be observed in the hypothalamus.

The treatment was accompanied by progressive improvement in the function of these organs as ascertained through numerous biochemical/physiological biomarkers and behavioral responses to assess cognitive functions. Cellular senescence, which is not associated with epigenetic aging, was also considerably reduced in vital organs.

Plasma fraction treatment consists of two series of intravenous injections of plasma fraction. Rats were injected four times on alternate days for 8 days. A second identical series of injections were administered 95 days later. In its entirety, the experiment lasted 155 days.

Overall, this study demonstrates that a plasma-derived treatment markedly reverses aging according to epigenetic clocks and benchmark biomarkers of aging.”

The study hasn’t been peer reviewed, so can’t be viewed yet as conclusive. Given that researchers’ single-most valuable asset is their reputations, though, will the findings have major revisions?


I was alerted to the study by Josh Mitteldorf’s blog post Age Reduction Breakthrough, who did his usual excellent curation:

“Most of the explosion in aging research (and virtually all the venture capital startups) are looking to treat aging at the cellular level. Their paradigm is that aging is an accumulation of molecular damage, and they see their job as engineering of appropriate repair mechanisms.

The truth, as Katcher [the lead lab researcher] understands it, is that, to a large extent, aging is coordinated system-wide via signal molecules in the blood. The problem is that there are thousands of constituents represented in tiny concentrations in blood plasma, but conveying messages that cells read. Which of these are responsible for aging?

The two-species clock[s] was [were] a significant innovation, a first bridge for translating results from an animal model into their probable equivalent in humans. Besides the methylation clock[s], the paper presents evidence of rejuvenation by many other measures. For example:

  • IL-6, a marker of inflammation, was restored to low youthful levels;
  • Glutathione (GSH), superoxide dismutase (SOD), and other antioxidants were restored to higher youthful levels;
  • In tests of cognitive function (Barnes maze), treated rats scored better than old rats, but not as well as young rats.;
  • Blood triglycerides were brought down to youthful levels;
  • HDL cholesterol rose to youthful levels; and
  • Blood glucose fell toward youthful levels.

These results bring together three threads that have been gaining credibility over the last decade. Mutually reinforcing, the three have a strength that none of them could offer separately.

  1. The root cause of aging is epigenetic progression = changes in gene expression over a lifetime.
  2. Methylation patterns in nuclear DNA are not merely a marker of aging, but its primary source. Thus aging can be reversed by reprogramming DNA methylation.
  3. Information about the body’s age state is transmitted system-wide via signal molecules in the blood. Locally, tissues respond to these signals and adopt a young or an old cellular phenotype as they are directed.”

Several of these aging measurements are also positively affected by sulforaphane. Using Sulforaphane: Its “Coming of Age” as a Clinically Relevant Nutraceutical in the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Disease as a reference:

1. “Chronic inflammation”

“Antioxidants in general and glutathione in particular can be depleted rapidly under conditions of oxidative stress, and this can signal inflammatory pathways associated with NF-κB. SFN [sulforaphane] has been shown to inhibit NF-κB in endothelial cells.

Two key inflammatory cytokines were measured at four time points in forty healthy overweight people [our model clinical trial, Effects of long-term consumption of broccoli sprouts on inflammatory markers in overweight subjects]. The levels of both interleukin-6 (Il-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP) declined over the 70 days during which the sprouts were ingested. These biomarkers were measured again at day 90, wherein it was found that Il-6 continued to decline, whereas CRP climbed again. When the final measurement was taken at day 160, CRP, although climbing, had not returned to its baseline value. Il-6 remained significantly below the baseline level at day 160.”

OMCL2019-2716870.010

2. “Oxidative stress”

“As a mediator for amplification of the mammalian defence system against various stressors, Nrf2 [nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2] sits at the interface between our prior understanding of oxidative stress and the endogenous mechanisms cells use to deal with it. Diseases known to be underpinned by oxidative stress are proving to be more responsive to amplification of cellular defences via Nrf2 activation than by administration of direct-acting antioxidant supplements.

SFN, with absolute bioavailability of around 80%, [is] capable of increasing several endogenous antioxidant compounds via the transcription factor, Nrf2.

Nrf2 is ubiquitously expressed with the highest concentrations (in descending order) in the kidney, muscle, lung, heart, liver, and brain. Nrf2 was shown to prevent endothelial cells from exhibiting a proinflammatory state. Nrf2 is required for protection against glucose-induced oxidative stress and cardiomyopathy in the heart.

Well in excess of 500 genes have been identified as being activated by SFN via the Nrf2/ARE [Antioxidant Response Element] pathway, and it is likely that this underestimates the number as others are being discovered. Of the available SFN clinical trials associated with genes induced via Nrf2 activation, many demonstrate a linear dose-response. More recently, it has become apparent that SFN can behave hormetically with different effects responsive to different doses.

It [sulforaphane] is not only a potent Nrf2 inducer but also highly bioavailable so that modest practical doses can produce significant clinical responses. Other Nrf2 activators [shown in the above image] not only lack potency but also lack the bioavailability to be considered as significant intracellular Nrf2 activators.”


The study’s most relentlessly questioned, scrutinized, and criticized findings may be the two new epigenetic clocks that apply to both humans and rats. The researchers invited other researchers to validate these clocks because:

“If validated, this would be a step change in aging research. Although conservation of aging mechanism could be equally deduced from the existence of multiple individual clocks for other mammals (mouse, dog), the single formula of the human-rat clock that is equally applicable to both species effectively demonstrates this fact.”

The commonalities of this study with efforts to change my inflammatory phenotype with broccoli sprouts were summarized in the Discussion section:

“Apart from rejuvenating the vital organs of the treated rats, plasma fraction also impacted two fundamental physiological processes that underlie a great number of pathologies, namely oxidative stress and inflammation. Within a week of treatment, the markers of chronic inflammation (IL-6 and TNF-α) were significantly reduced and remained low throughout the entire experiment.

Likewise, markers of oxidative stress in brain, heart, lung and liver, which were very much higher in control old rats, were at the end of the experimental period, indistinguishable between plasma fraction-treated old rats and young ones. Concomitant with this drastic reduction in oxidative stress was the augmented levels of antioxidants (GSH, Catalase and SOD) in these tissues, indicating that modulating the levels of ROS [reactive oxygen species] to that of youthful rats is at least one way by which plasma fraction suppresses oxidative stress. It remains to be ascertained whether the rate of ROS generation is also reduced.

The levels of Nrf2, a transcription factor that impacts on oxidative stress, as well as inflammation, were raised by plasma fraction treatment of old rats to those of the young ones, indicating yet another level by which this treatment modulates these two critical processes. Collectively, these results show that plasma fraction treatment impacts not only the overt performances of organs, but also the underlying physiological processes that are pivotal for optimal organ function and health.”

Great stuff, huh? Are you ready to change your phenotype?

Continued with Part 2 of Rejuvenation therapy and sulforaphane.

Do early experiences of hunger affect our behavior, thoughts, and feelings today?

Reposted from five years ago.


A 2015 worldwide human study Hunger promotes acquisition of nonfood objects found that people’s current degree of hungriness affected their propensity to acquire nonfood items.

The researchers admitted that they didn’t demonstrate cause and effect with the five experiments they performed, although the findings had merit. News articles poked good-natured fun at the findings with headlines such as “Why Hungry People Want More Binder Clips.”

The research caught my eye with these statements:

“Hunger’s influence extends beyond food consumption to the acquisition of nonfood items that cannot satisfy the underlying need.

We conclude that a basic biologically based motivation can affect substantively unrelated behaviors that cannot satisfy the motivation.


The concept of the quotes relates to a principle of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy – symbolic satisfaction of needs. Two fundamentals of Primal Therapy:

  1. The physiological impacts of our early unmet needs drive our behavior, thoughts, and feelings.
  2. The painful impacts of our unfulfilled needs impel us to be constantly vigilant for some way to fulfill them.

Corollary principles of Primal Therapy:

  • Our present efforts to fulfill our early unmet needs will seldom be satisfying. It’s too late.
  • We acquire substitutes now for what we really needed back then.
  • Acquiring these symbols of our early unmet needs may – at best – temporarily satisfy derivative needs.

But the symbolic satisfaction of derived needs – the symptoms – never resolves the impacts of early unfulfilled needs – the motivating causes:

  • We repeat the acquisition behavior, and get caught in a circle of acting out our feelings and impulses driven by these conditions.
  • The unconscious act-outs become sources of misery both to us and to the people around us.

As this study’s findings showed, there’s every reason for us to want researchers to provide a factual blueprint of causes for our hunger sensation effects, such as “unrelated behaviors that cannot satisfy the motivation.

Hunger research objectives could include answering:

  • What enduring physiological changes occurred as a result of past hunger?
  • How do these changes affect the subjects’ present behaviors, thoughts, and feelings?

Hunger research causal evidence for the effect of why people acquire items that cannot satisfy the underlying needmay include studying where to start the timelines for the impacts of hunger. The impacts potentially go back at least to infancy when we were completely dependent on our caregivers.

Infants can’t get up to go to the refrigerator to satisfy their hunger. All a hungry infant can do is call attention to their need, and feel pain from the deprivation of their need.

Is infancy far back enough, though, to understand the beginnings of potential impacts of hunger?

Growing a broccoli sprouts Victory Garden

To follow up How much sulforaphane is suitable for healthy people? I’ve started growing broccoli sprouts, and a 30 60 grams of fresh broccoli sprouts incorporated daily into the diet” [1] program. See Week 2 of Changing an inflammatory phenotype with broccoli sprouts for changes.

I loosely follow [2]‘s sprouting guidelines. One preparation difference is microwaving per [3]‘s findings as follows:

My current microwaving time for 60 grams of 3-day-old broccoli sprouts in 100 ml of water with a 1000 W microwave on full power is 35 seconds. The temperature gets up to 57°C. See Enhancing sulforaphane content for changes. I immediately dump the broccoli sprouts into a colander and spray with cold water to stop heating at the desired temperature.

The first batch of broccoli sprouts was a mild, cabbage-tasting side dish to the home-style chicken soup on page 238 of [4].

The a priori hypotheses:

    1. 30 grams of fresh broccoli sprouts will not have “51 mg (117 μmol)” of glucoraphanin [1] because they “Used the elicitor methyl jasmonate (MeJA) by priming the seeds as well as by spraying daily. MeJA at concentrations of 156 μM act as stressor in the plant and enhances the biosynthesis of the phytochemicals glucosinolates. Compared to control plants without MeJA treatment, the content of compounds as the aliphatic glucosinolate glucoraphanin was enhanced up to 70%.” 117 μmol / 1.70 = 69 μmol is the expected glucoraphanin amount in 30 grams weight of fresh broccoli sprouts. 69 x 2 = 138 μmol in 60 grams.
    2. One measurement [5] of how much sulforaphane is present in fresh broccoli sprouts before microwaving is 100 μmol / 111 g = .9 μmol / g. (.9 x 30 g) = 27 μmol is the expected sulforaphane amount in 30 grams of fresh broccoli sprouts. Changed assumption to 0 μmol sulforaphane due to 2013 Sulforaphane: translational research from laboratory bench to clinic “Broccoli sprouts are correctly described as releasing, generating, or yielding but not containing SFN [sulforaphane].”
    3. Last week a [3] coauthor agreed to make the data available to facilitate calculations. While I’m waiting…The study said the Figure 3 HL60 sulforaphane amount was 2.45 μmol / g. Eyeball estimate of the below Figure 3 control (raw broccoli florets) is a glucoraphanin amount of ~2.2 μmol / g. I assume that the broccoli florets and sprouts conversion would be the same at a 2.45 μmol / 2.2 μmol ≈ 1.11 ratio. I expect that microwaving the raw broccoli sprouts to 60°C will convert the 138 μmol of glucoraphanin to a 153 μmol amount of sulforaphane at this assumed 1.11 conversion ratio.
    4. The estimated sulforaphane weight per [6] would be (153 / 5.64) = 27 mg which is comparable to clinical trial dosages listed in [7] and [8].
    5. I’ve been sitting around a lot since returning from Milano, Italy, on February 24, 2020, and probably weigh around 75 kg. The estimated dosage represents 153 μmol / 75 kg = 2.04 μmol / kg, compared to the 1.36 μmol / kg average of [1]. (The study provided the subjects’ mean weight in Table 1 as “85.8 ± 16.7 kg.” The average dosage per kg body weight was 117 μmol / 85.8 kg = 1.36 μmol / kg.)
    6. Don’t have a practical estimate of the amount of sulforaphane I metabolize from post-microwave glucoraphanin. Both [7] and [8] cited a 2012 study that found: “Some conversion of GRN [glucoraphanin] to SFN can occur in response to metabolism by the gut microflora; however, the response is inefficient, having been shown to vary ‘from about 1% to more than 40% of the dose.’”
    7. Don’t have a practical estimate of the “internal dose.” [8]

I don’t have a laboratory in my kitchen 🙂 and won’t have quantified results.


References in order of citation:

[1] 2018 Effects of long-term consumption of broccoli sprouts on inflammatory markers in overweight subjects

[2] 2017 You Need Sulforaphane – How and Why to Grow Broccoli Sprouts

[3] 2020 Microwave cooking increases sulforaphane level in broccoli curated in Microwave broccoli to increase sulforaphane levels

fsn31493-fig-0003-m

[4] 2016 Dr. Vlassara’s AGE-Less Diet: How a Chemical in the Foods We Eat Promotes Disease, Obesity, and Aging and the Steps We Can Take to Stop It

[5] 2016 Effect of Broccoli Sprouts and Live Attenuated Influenza Virus on Peripheral Blood Natural Killer Cells: A Randomized, Double-Blind Study

[6] 2020 https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/sulforaphane lists sulforaphane’s molecular weight as 177.3 g / mol. A 1 mg weight of sulforaphane equals a 5.64 μmol sulforaphane amount (.001 / 177.3).

[7] 2019 Sulforaphane: Its “Coming of Age” as a Clinically Relevant Nutraceutical in the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Disease

[8] 2019 Broccoli or Sulforaphane: Is It the Source or Dose That Matters? Note that a coauthor didn’t disclose their business’ conflict of interest for an effectively promoted commercial product.

How much sulforaphane is suitable for healthy people?

This post compares and contrasts two perspectives on how much sulforaphane is suitable for healthy people. One perspective was an October 2019 review from John Hopkins researchers who specialize in sulforaphane clinical trials:

Broccoli or Sulforaphane: Is It the Source or Dose That Matters?

Since these researchers didn’t give a consumer-practical answer, I’ve presented a concurrent commercial perspective to the same body of evidence via an October 2019 review from the Australian founder of a company that offers sulforaphane products:

Sulforaphane: Its “Coming of Age” as a Clinically Relevant Nutraceutical in the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Disease


1. Taste from the clinical trial perspective:

“The harsh taste (a.k.a. back-of-the-throat burning sensation) that is noticed by most people who consume higher doses of sulforaphane, must be acknowledged and anticipated by investigators. This is particularly so at the higher limits of dosing with sulforaphane, and not so much of a concern when dosing with glucoraphanin, or even with glucoraphanin-plus-myrosinase.

The presence and/or enzymatic production of levels of sulforaphane in oral doses ranging above about 100 µmol, creates a burning taste that most consumers notice in the back of their throats rather than on the tongue. Higher doses of sulforaphane lead to an increased number of adverse event reports, primarily nausea, heartburn, or other gastrointestinal discomfort.”

Taste wasn’t mentioned in the commercial review. Adverse effects were mentioned in this context:

“Because SFN is derived from a commonly consumed vegetable, it is generally considered to lack adverse effects; the safety of broccoli sprouts has been confirmed. However, the use of a phytochemical in chemoprevention engages very different biochemical processes when using the same molecule in chemotherapy; the biochemical behaviour of cancer cells and normal cells is very different.”

2. Commercial products from the clinical trial perspective:

“Using a dietary supplement formulation of glucoraphanin plus myrosinase (Avmacol®) in tablet form, we observed a median 20% bioavailability with greatly dampened inter-individual variability. Fahey et al. have observed approximately 35% bioavailability with this supplement in a different population.”

Avmacol appeared to be the John Hopkins product of choice, as it was mentioned 15 times in the clinical trials table. A further investigation of Avmacol showed that its supplier for broccoli extract, TrueBroc, was cofounded and is still run by a John Hopkins coauthor! Yet the review stated:

“The authors declare no conflict of interest.”

Other products were downgraded with statements such as:

“5 or 10 g/d of BroccoPhane powder (BSP), reported to be rich in SF, daily x 4 wks (we have assayed previously and found this not to be the case).”

They also disclaimed:

“We have indicated clinical studies in which label results have been used rather than making dose measurements prior to or during intervention.”

No commercial products, not even the author’s own company’s, were directly mentioned in the commercial perspective.

3. Dosage from the clinical trial perspective:

“Reporting of administered dose of glucoraphanin and/or sulforaphane is a poor measure of the bioavailable / bioactive dose of sulforaphane. As a consequence, we propose that the excreted amount of sulforaphane metabolites (sulforaphane + sulforaphane cysteine-glycine + sulforaphane cysteine + sulforaphane N-acetylcysteine) in urine over 24 h (2–3 half-lives), which is a measure of “internal dose”, provides a more revealing and likely consistent view of the delivery of sulforaphane to study participants.

Only recently have there been attempts to define minimally effective doses in humans – an outcome made possible by the development of consistently formulated, stable, bioavailable broccoli-derived preparations.”

Dosage from the commercial perspective:

“Of the available SFN clinical trials associated with genes induced via Nrf2 activation, many demonstrate a linear dose-response. More recently, it has become apparent that SFN can behave hormetically with different effects responsive to different doses. This is in addition to its varying effects on different cell types and consequent to widely varying intracellular concentrations.

A 2017 clinical pilot study examined the effect of an oral dose of 100 μmol (17.3 mg) encapsulated SFN on GSH [the endogenous antioxidant glutathione] induction in humans over 7 days. Pre- and postmeasurement of GSH in blood cells that included T cells, B cells, and NK cells showed an increase of 32%. The researchers found that in the pilot group of nine participants, age, sex, and race did not influence the outcome.

Clinical outcomes are achievable in conditions such as asthma with daily SFN doses of around 18 mg daily and from 27 to 40 mg in type 2 diabetes. The daily SFN dose found to achieve beneficial outcomes in most of the available clinical trials is around 20-40 mg.”

The author’s sulforaphane products are available in 100, 250, and 700 mg capsules of enzyme-active broccoli sprout powder. From Eat broccoli sprouts today:

“The bioavailability of sulforaphane in a broccoli sprout extract with the myrosinase enzyme 100 μmol gelcap was 36.1% which weighed 6.4 mg.”

The author’s products convert to 36, 90, and 253 mg sulforaphane dosages. Since only the first is in the review’s recommended “20-40 mg” range, I don’t see a readily apparent conflict.

4. Let’s see how the perspectives treated a 2018 Spanish clinical trial published as Effects of long-term consumption of broccoli sprouts on inflammatory markers in overweight subjects.

From the commercial perspective:

“In a recent study using 30 grams of fresh broccoli sprouts incorporated daily into the diet, two key inflammatory cytokines were measured at four time points in forty healthy overweight [BMI 24.9 – 29.9] people. The levels of both interleukin-6 (Il-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP) declined over the 70 days during which the sprouts were ingested.

These biomarkers were measured again at day 90, wherein it was found that Il-6 continued to decline, whereas CRP climbed again. When the final measurement was taken at day 160, CRP, although climbing, had not returned to its baseline value. Il-6 remained significantly below the baseline level at day 160.

The sprouts contained approximately 51 mg (117 μmol) GRN, and plasma and urinary SFN metabolites were measured to confirm that SFN had been produced when the sprouts were ingested.”


The clinical trial perspective added that the study dosage was “1.67 (GR) μmol/kg BW.” This wasn’t accurate, however. It was assumed into existence by:

“In cases where the authors did not indicate dosage in μmol/kg body weight (BW), we have made those calculations using the a priori assumption of a 70 kg BW.”

117 μmol / 1.67 μmol/kg = 70 kg.

The study provided the subjects’ mean weight in Table 1 as “85.8 ± 16.7 kg.” So the study’s actual average dosage per kg body weight was 117 μmol / 85.8 kg = 1.36 μmol/kg. Was making an accurate calculation too difficult?

The clinical trial review included the study in the informative Section “3.2. Clinical Studies with Broccoli-Based Preparations: Efficacy” subsection “3.2.8. Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Related Disorders.” However, this was somewhat misleading, as it was grouped with studies such as the 2012 Iranian Effects of broccoli sprout with high sulforaphane concentration on inflammatory markers in type 2 diabetic patients: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial (not freely available).

The commercial perspective pointed out substantial differences between the two studies:

“Where the study described above by Lopez-Chillon et al. investigated healthy overweight people to assess the effects of SFN-yielding broccoli sprout homogenate on biomarkers of inflammation, Mirmiran et al. in 2012 had used a SFN-yielding supplement in T2DM patients. Although the data are not directly comparable, the latter study using the powdered supplement resulted in significant lowering of Il-6, hs-CRP, and TNF-α over just 4 weeks.

It is not possible to further compare the two studies due to the vastly different time periods over which each was conducted.”


The commercial perspective impressed as more balanced than the clinical trial perspective. The clinical trial perspective also had an undisclosed conflict of interest!

A. The commercial perspective didn’t specifically mention any commercial products. The clinical trial perspective:

– Effectively promoted one commercial product whose supplier was a coauthor’s company;

– Downgraded several other commercial products; and

– Tried to shift responsibility for the lack of “minimally effective doses in humans” to commercial products with:

“Only recently have there been attempts to define minimally effective doses in humans – an outcome made possible by the development of consistently formulated, stable, bioavailable broccoli-derived preparations.”

Unless four years previous is “recently,” using commercial products to excuse slow research progress can be dismissed. A coauthor of the clinical trial perspective was John Hopkins’ lead researcher for the November 2015 Sulforaphane Bioavailability from Glucoraphanin-Rich Broccoli: Control by Active Endogenous Myrosinase, which commended “high quality, commercially available broccoli supplements” per:

“We have now discontinued making BSE [broccoli sprout extract], because there are several high quality, commercially available broccoli supplements on the market.”

B. The commercial perspective didn’t address taste, which may be a consumer acceptance problem.

C. The commercial perspective provided practical dosage recommendations, reflecting their consumer orientation. These recommendations didn’t address how much sulforaphane is suitable for healthy people, though.

Practical dosage recommendations are what the clinical trial perspective will eventually have do after they stop dodging their audience – which includes clinicians trying to apply clinical trial data – with unhelpful statements such as:

“Reporting of administered dose of glucoraphanin and/or sulforaphane is a poor measure of the bioavailable / bioactive dose of sulforaphane.”

How practical was their “internal dose” recommendation for non-researcher readers?


Here’s what I’m doing to answer how much sulforaphane is suitable for healthy people.

I’d like to posthumously credit my high school literature teachers Dorothy Jasiecki and Martin Obrentz for this post’s compare-and-contrast approach. They both required their students to read at least two books monthly, then minimally handwrite a 3-page (single-spaced) paper comparing and contrasting the two books.

You can see from their linked testimonials that their approach was in a bygone era, back when some teachers considered the desired outcome of public education to be that each individual learned to think for themself. My younger brother contributed:

“I can still remember everything Mr. Obrentz ever assigned for me to read. He was the epitome of what a teacher should be.”

The epigenetics of perinatal stress

This 2019 McGill review discussed long-lasting effects of perinatal stress:

“Epigenetic processes are involved in embedding the impact of early-life experience in the genome and mediating between social environments and later behavioral phenotypes. Since these phenotypes are apparent a long time after the early experience, the changes in gene expression programming must be stable.

Although loss of methylation in a promoter is necessary for expression, it is not sufficient. Demethylation removes a barrier for expression, but expression might be realized at the right time or context when the needed factors or signals are present.

DNA methylation anticipates future transcriptional response to triggers. Comparing steady-state expression with DNA methylation does not capture the full meaning and scope of the regulatory roles of differential methylation.

A model for epigenetic programming by early life stress:

  1. Perinatal stress perceived by the brain triggers release of glucocorticoids (GC) from the adrenal in the mother prenatally or the newborn postnatally.
  2. GC activate nuclear glucocorticoid receptors across the body, which epigenetically program (demethylate) genes that are targets of GR in brain and white blood cells (WBC).
  3. The demethylation events are insufficient for activation of these genes. A brain specific factor (TF) is required for expression and will activate low expression of the gene in the brain but not in blood.
  4. During adulthood a stressful event transiently triggers a very high level of expression of the GR regulated gene specifically in the brain.

Horizontal arrow, transcription; circles, CpG sites; CH3 in circles, methylated sites; empty circles, unmethylated CpG sites; horizon[t]al curved lines, mRNA.”

Points discussed in the review:

  • “Epigenetic marks are laid down and maintained by enzymes that either add or remove epigenetic modifications and are therefore potentially reversible in contrast to genetic changes.
  • The response to early life stress and maternal behavior is also not limited to the brain and involves at least the immune system as well.
  • The placenta is also impacted by maternal social experience and early life stress.
  • Most studies are limited to peripheral tissues such as saliva and white blood cells, and the relevance to brain physiology and pathology is uncertain.
  • The low absolute differences in methylation seen in most human behavioral EWAS raise questions about their biological significance.

  • Although post-mortem studies examine epigenetic programming in physiologically relevant tissues, they represent only a final and single stage that does not capture the dynamic evolution of environments and epigenetic programming in living humans.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6952743/ “The epigenetics of perinatal stress”


Other reviewers try to ignore the times when we were all fetuses and newborns. For example, in the same journal issue was a Boston review of PTSD that didn’t mention anything about the earliest times of human lives! Those reviewers speculated around this obvious gap on their way to being paid by NIH.

Why would researchers ignore perinatal stress events that prime humans for later-life PTSD? Stress generally has a greater impact on fetuses and newborns than even infants, and a greater impact on infants than adults.

Using oxytocin receptor gene methylation to pursue an agenda

A pair of 2019 Virginia studies involved human mother/infant subjects:

“We show that OXTRm [oxytocin receptor gene DNA methylation] in infancy and its change is predicted by maternal engagement and reflective of behavioral temperament.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6795517 “Epigenetic dynamics in infancy and the impact of maternal engagement”

“Infants with higher OXTRm show enhanced responses to anger and fear and attenuated responses to happiness in right inferior frontal cortex, a region implicated in emotion processing through action-perception coupling.

Infant fNIRS [functional near-infrared spectroscopy] is limited to measuring responses from cerebral cortex..it is unknown whether OXTR is expressed in the cerebral cortex during prenatal and early postnatal human brain development.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187892931830207X “Epigenetic modification of the oxytocin receptor gene is associated with emotion processing in the infant brain”


Both studies had weak disclosures of limitations on their findings’ relevance and significance. The largest non-disclosed contrary finding was from the 2015 Early-life epigenetic regulation of the oxytocin receptor gene:

These results suggest that:

  • Blood Oxtr DNA methylation may reflect early experience of maternal care, and
  • Oxtr methylation across tissues is highly concordant for specific CpGs, but
  • Inferences across tissues are not supported for individual variation in Oxtr methylation.

This rat study found that blood OXTR methylation of 25 CpG sites couldn’t accurately predict the same 25 CpG sites’ OXTR methylation in each subject’s hippocampus, hypothalamus, and striatum (which includes the nucleus accumbens) brain areas. Without significant effects in these limbic system structures, there couldn’t be any associated behavioral effects.

But CpG site associations and correlations were deemed good in the two current studies because they cited:

“Recent work in prairie voles has found that both brain- and blood-derived OXTRm levels at these sites are negatively associated with gene expression in the brain and highly correlated with each other.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453018306103 “Early nurture epigenetically tunes the oxytocin receptor”

The 2018 prairie vole study – which included several of the same researchers as the two current studies – found four nucleus accumbens CpG sites that had high correlations to humans. Discarding one of these CpG sites allowed their statistics package to make a four-decimal place finding:

“The methylation state of the blood was also associated with the level of transcription in the brain at three of the four CpG sites..whole blood was capable of explaining 94.92% of the variance in Oxtr DNA methylation and 18.20% of the variance in Oxtr expression.”

Few limitations on the prairie vole study findings were disclosed. Like the two current studies, there wasn’t a limitation section that placed research findings into suitable contexts. So readers didn’t know researcher viewpoints on items such as:

  • What additional information showed that 3 of the 30+ million human CpGs accurately predicted specific brain OXTR methylation and expression from saliva OXTR methylation?
  • What additional information demonstrated how “measuring responses from cerebral cortex” although “it is unknown whether OXTR is expressed in the cerebral cortex” provided detailed and dependable estimates of limbic system CpG site OXTR methylation and expression?
  • Was the above 25-CpG study evidence considered?

Further contrast these three studies with a typical, four-point, 285-word limitation section of a study like Prenatal stress heightened adult chronic pain. The word “limit” appeared 6 times in that pain study, 3 times in the current fNIRS study, and 0 times in the current maternal engagement and cited prairie vole studies.

Frank interpretations of one’s own study findings to acknowledge limitations is one way researchers can address items upfront that will be questioned anyway. Such analyses also indicate a goal to advance science.

Prenatal stress heightened adult chronic pain

This 2019 McGill rodent study found:

Prenatal stress exacerbates pain after injury. Analysis of mRNA expression of genes related to epigenetic regulation and stress responses in the frontal cortex and hippocampus, brain structures implicated in chronic pain, showed distinct sex and region-specific patterns of dysregulation.

In general, mRNA expression was most frequently altered in the male hippocampus and effects of prenatal stress were more prevalent than effects of nerve injury. Recent studies investigating chronic pain-related pathology in the hippocampus in humans and in rodent models demonstrate functional abnormalities in the hippocampus, changes in associated behavior, and decreases in adult hippocampal neurogenesis.

The change in expression of epigenetic- and stress-related genes is not a consequence of nerve injury but rather precedes nerve injury, consistent with the hypothesis that it might play a causal role in modulating the phenotypic response to nerve injury. These findings demonstrate the impact of prenatal stress on behavioral sensitivity to a painful injury.

Decreased frontal mRNA expression of BDNF and BDNF IV in male offspring following neuropathic pain or prenatal stress respectively. Relative mRNA expression of other stress-related genes (GR17, FKBP5) and epigenetic-related genes (DNMTs, TETs, HDACs, MBDs, MeCP2) in male offspring.

A drastic decrease in expression of HDAC1 was observed in all groups compared to sham-control animals. CCI: chronic constriction injury.”


The study’s design was similar to the PRS (prenatal restraint stress) model, except that the PRS procedure covered gestational days 11 to 21 (birth):

“Prenatal stress was induced on Embryonic days 13 to 17 by restraining the pregnant dams in transparent cylinder with 5 mm water, under bright light exposure, 3 times per day for 45 min.”

None of the French, Italian, and Swiss PRS studies were cited.

The limitation section included:

  1. “Although our study shows significant changes in expression of epigenetic enzymes, it didn’t examine the impact of these changes on genes that are epigenetically regulated by this machinery or their involvement in intensifying pain responses.
  2. The current study is limited by the focus on changes in gene expression which do not necessarily correlate with changes in protein expression.
  3. Another limitation of this study is the inability to distinguish the direct effects of stress in utero vs. changes in the dam’s maternal behavior due to stress during pregnancy; cross-fostering studies are needed to address this issue.
  4. Functional experiments that involve up and down regulation of epigenetic enzymes in specific brain regions are required to establish a causal role for these processes in chronic pain.”

What do you think about possible human applicability of this study’s “effects of prenatal stress were more prevalent than effects of nerve injury” finding?

Are there any professional frameworks that instruct trainees to recognize that if a person’s mother was stressed while pregnant, their prenatal experiences could cause more prevalent biological and behavioral effects than a recent injury?

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432819315219 “Prenatal maternal stress is associated with increased sensitivity to neuropathic pain and sex-specific changes in supraspinal mRNA expression of epigenetic- and stress-related genes in adulthood” (not freely available)