Neonatology pp 41-48 | Cite as

Epigenetic Mechanisms

  • Felicia M. Low
  • Peter D. GluckmanEmail author
Reference work entry


Epidemiological and experimental studies have provided considerable evidence that early environmental cues may influence an individual’s susceptibility to disease in later life. Organisms have evolved with the capacity for developmental plasticity in order to match their developmental trajectory to the environment, and this adaptive response is driven in part by epigenetic mechanisms. However, a mismatch between the induced phenotype and mature environment contributes to an increased propensity toward developing chronic noncommunicable disease. In this chapter we describe several epigenetic mechanisms and some diseases that arise from non-environmentally induced epigenetic errors. We also provide an overview of the evidence that early-life environmental variations alter predisposition to chronic metabolic and cardiovascular disease at maturity and that this is mediated by epigenetic processes. The potential for reversibility of developmentally induced epigenetic changes is discussed.


  1. Adalsteinsson BT, Ferguson-Smith AC (2014) Epigenetic control of the genome—lessons from genomic imprinting. Genes 5:635–655CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anacker C, O’Donnell KJ, Meaney MJ (2014) Early life adversity and the epigenetic programming of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function. Dialogues Clin Neurosci 16(3):321–333PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. Beaujean N (2014) Histone post-translational modifications in preimplantation mouse embryos and their role in nuclear architecture. Mol Reprod Dev 81(2):100–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Begum G, Davies A, Stevens A, Oliver M, Jaquiery A, Challis J et al (2013) Maternal undernutrition programs tissue-specific epigenetic changes in the glucocorticoid receptor in adult offspring. Endocrinology 154(12):4560–4569CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bowman GD, Poirier MG (2015) Post-translational modifications of histones that influence nucleosome dynamics. Chem Rev 115(6):2274–2295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Galvani A, Thiriet C (2015) Nucleosome dancing at the tempo of histone tail acetylation. Genes 6:607–621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. García-Giménez JL (ed) (2016) Epigenetic biomarkers and diagnostics. Academic, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Gluckman PD, Lillycrop KA, Vickers MH, Pleasants AB, Phillips ES, Beedle AS et al (2007) Metabolic plasticity during mammalian development is directionally dependent on early nutritional status. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104(31):12796–12800CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gluckman PD, Hanson MA, Cooper C, Thornburg KL (2008) Effect of in utero and early-life conditions on adult health and disease. N Engl J Med 359(1):61–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gluckman PD, Buklijas T, Hanson MA (2015) The developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) concept: past, present, and future. In: Rosenfeld CS (ed) The epigenome and developmental origins of health and disease. Academic, London, pp 1–13Google Scholar
  11. Godfrey KM, Sheppard A, Gluckman PD, Lillycrop KA, Burdge GC, McLean C et al (2011) Epigenetic gene promoter methylation at birth is associated with child’s later adiposity. Diabetes 60:1528–1534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hanson MA, Gluckman PD (2014) Early developmental conditioning of later health and disease: physiology or pathophysiology? Physiol Rev 94:1027–1076CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Horike S-i, Cai S, Miyano M, Cheng J-F, Kohwi-Shigematsu T (2005) Loss of silent-chromatin looping and impaired imprinting of DLX5 in Rett syndrome. Nat Genet 37(1):31–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Iwakawa H-o, Tomari Y (2015) The functions of MicroRNAs: mRNA decay and translational repression. Trends Cell Biol 25(11):651–665CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kalsner L, Chamberlain SJ (2015) Prader-Willi, Angelman, and 15q11-q13 duplication syndromes. Pediatr Clin North Am 62(3):587–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lillycrop KA, Phillips ES, Jackson AA, Hanson MA, Burdge GC (2005) Dietary protein restriction of pregnant rats induces and folic acid supplementation prevents epigenetic modification of hepatic gene expression in the offspring. J Nutr 135:1382–1386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Liyanage VRB, Rastegar M (2014) Rett syndrome and MeCP2. Neuromol Med 16:231–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Low FM, Gluckman PD, Hanson MA (2011) Developmental plasticity and epigenetic mechanisms underpinning metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Epigenomics 3(3):279–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Low FM, Gluckman PD, Hanson MA (2014) Epigenetic and developmental basis of risk of obesity and metabolic disease. In: Ulloa-Aguirre A, Conn PM (eds) Cellular endocrinology in health and disease. Elsevier, London, pp 111–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Low FM, Gluckman PD, Hanson MA (2016) A life course approach to public health: why early life matters. In: van den Bosch M, Bird W (eds) Oxford textbook of nature and public health. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  21. Meller VH, Joshi SS, Deshpande N (2015) Modulation of chromatin by noncoding RNA. Annu Rev Genet 49:673–695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Quinn JJ, Chang HY (2016) Unique features of long non-coding RNA biogenesis and function. Nat Rev Genet 17(1):47–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Regha K, Latos PA, Spahn L (2006) The imprinted mouse Igf2r/Air cluster – a model maternal imprinting system. Cytogenet Genome Res 113(1–4):165–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Schubeler D (2015) Function and information content of DNA methylation. Nature 517(7534):321–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stepanov GA, Filippova JA, Komissarov AB, Kuligina EV, Richter VA, Semenov DV (2015) Regulatory role of small nucleolar RNAs in human diseases. BioMed Res Int 2015:10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Vickers MH, Sloboda DM (2012) Strategies for reversing the effects of metabolic disorders induced as a consequence of developmental programming. Front Physiol 3:242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Vickers MH, Gluckman PD, Coveny AH, Hofman PL, Cutfield WS, Gertler A et al (2005) Neonatal leptin treatment reverses developmental programming. Endocrinology 146:4211–4216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Weaver ICG, Cervoni N, Champagne FA, D’Alessio AC, Sharma S, Seckl JR et al (2004) Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior. Nat Neurosci 7(8):847–854CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Liggins Institute, University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations