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Environ Epigenet. 2018 Jul 17;4(2):dvy016. doi: 10.1093/eep/dvy016. eCollection 2018 Apr.

Environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease.

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Center for Reproductive Biology, School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA.


Ancestral environmental exposures such as toxicants, abnormal nutrition or stress can promote the epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease and phenotypic variation. These environmental factors induce the epigenetic reprogramming of the germline (sperm and egg). The germline epimutations can in turn increase disease susceptibility of subsequent generations of the exposed ancestors. A variety of environmental factors, species and exposure specificity of this induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease is discussed with a consideration of generational toxicology. The molecular mechanisms and processes involved in the ability of these inherited epimutations to increase disease susceptibility are discussed. In addition to altered disease susceptibility, the potential impact of the epigenetic inheritance on phenotypic variation and evolution is considered. Observations suggest environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease is a critical aspect of disease etiology, toxicology and evolution that needs to be considered.


disease etiology; epigenetics; evolution; non-genetic inheritance; review; transgenerational

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