Early-life nutrition modulates the epigenetic state of specific rDNA genetic variants in mice

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Science  29 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6298, pp. 495-498
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf7040

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Mom's diet affects growth

Nutrition is important during development. This appears to be true even in utero, with potential long-lasting effects on adult phenotype and disease. Epigenetic factors are prime suspects in identifying the corresponding molecular mechanism because they can be maintained throughout cell division. Holland et al. show in mice that in utero nutritional deficits influence offspring growth through epigenetic states at multicopy ribosomal DNA elements. This effect is influenced by the genetic variation that naturally exists within the ribosomal RNA.

Science, this issue p. 495


A suboptimal early-life environment, due to poor nutrition or stress during pregnancy, can influence lifelong phenotypes in the progeny. Epigenetic factors are thought to be key mediators of these effects. We show that protein restriction in mice from conception until weaning induces a linear correlation between growth restriction and DNA methylation at ribosomal DNA (rDNA). This epigenetic response remains into adulthood and is restricted to rDNA copies associated with a specific genetic variant within the promoter. Related effects are also found in models of maternal high-fat or obesogenic diets. Our work identifies environmentally induced epigenetic dynamics that are dependent on underlying genetic variation and establishes rDNA as a genomic target of nutritional insults.

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