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Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2013 Dec;113(3):439-46. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2012.12.003. Epub 2012 Dec 17.

Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance: focus on soma to germline information transfer.

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CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Delhi University Campus, Mall Road, Delhi 110007, India. Electronic address:


In trangenerational epigenetic inheritance, phenotypic information not encoded in DNA sequence is transmitted across generations. In germline-dependent mode, memory of environmental exposure in parental generation is transmitted through gametes, leading to appearance of phenotypes in the unexposed future generations. The memory is considered to be encoded in epigenetic factors like DNA methylation, histone modifications and regulatory RNAs. Environmental exposure may cause epigenetic modifications in the germline either directly or indirectly through primarily affecting the soma. The latter possibility is most intriguing because it contradicts the established dogma that hereditary information flows only from germline to soma, not in reverse. As such, identification of the factor(s) mediating soma to germline information transfer in transgenerational epigenetic inheritance would be pathbreaking. Regulatory RNAs and hormone have previously been implicated or proposed to play a role in soma to germline communication in epigenetic inheritance. This review examines the recent examples of gametogenic transgenerational inheritance in plants and animals in order to assess if evidence of regulatory RNAs and hormones as mediators of information transfer is supported. Overall, direct evidence for both mobile regulatory RNAs and hormones is found to exist in plants. In animals, although involvement of mobile RNAs seems imminent, direct evidence of RNA-mediated soma to germline information transfer in transgenerational epigenetic inheritance is yet to be obtained. Direct evidence is also lacking for hormones in animals. However, detailed examination of recently reported examples of transgenerational inheritance reveals circumstantial evidence supporting a role of hormones in information transmission.


Acquired characteristics; Epigenetic; Germline; Soma; Transgenerational

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