Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

Imprinting and epigenetic influences on optimal adult health

It is thought that epigenetic information can be programmed by environmental factors, such as diet and early life experiences, and such changes can be perpetuated long after these exposures and potentially to future generations.  Such epigenetic programming may contribute to our risk of developing disease in later life.  Imprinted genes are a paradigm for how epigenetic events in gametes of one generation dictate gene activity in the next.

Our methylation mapping of the egg, sperm and embryo suggests that this epigenetic influence may extend well beyond the small number of known imprinted genes (Smallwood et al. 2011).  Using genome-wide approaches, we are tracking the fate of DNA methylation patterns inherited from the egg and sperm, the stability of these marks throughout the lifetime and ageing, and how they affect activity of associated genes.

In particular, we are investigating whether DNA methylation in particular populations of neurons in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that senses nutritional status to control metabolism and appetite, is altered by exposure to altered diets and may modify response to nutritional status.
 
 
 
Neurons in the arcuate nucleus 

​Figure:  Profiling epigenetic responses in specific neuron populations.
Immunofluorescence image showing distinct populations of neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus in the adult mouse brain. 
Neurons are labelled with the ß-adrenergic receptor in green or the XLαs imprinted signalling protein in red.  The challenge for epigenomic profiling