Recent increase in ovarian disease partly attributed to ‘epigenetic transgenerational inheritance’
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Exposure to toxic chemicals in pesticides, plastics and hydrocarbons from fuel can cause ovarian disease across generations, according to Washington State University researchers who tracked the impacts in lab rats.
“What your great grandmother was exposed to when she was pregnant may promote ovarian disease in you and you’re going to pass it on to your grandchildren,”said biologist Michael Skinner. “Ovarian disease has been increasing over the past few decades to effect more than 10 percent of the human female population and environmental epigenetics may provide a reason for this increase,” he said.
The research shows that ovarian disease can result from exposures to a wide range of environmental chemicals and be inherited by future generations through “epigenetic transgenerational inheritance.”
Epigenetics regulates how genes are turned on and off in tissues and cells. Three generations were affected, showing fewer ovarian follicles—the source of eggs—and increased polycystic ovarian disease. The findings suggest ancestral environmental exposures and epigenetics may be a significant added factor in the development of ovarian disease, Skinner said.
Previous research by Skinner and colleagues showed jet fuel, dioxin, plastics, and the pesticides DEET and permethrin can also promote epigenetic inheritance of disease in young adults across generations.
The ground-breaking work is changing the way scientists look at toxicology, public health and biology in general. Rather than focusing on genes as the ultimate arbiters of inheritance, Skinner’s lab has repeatedly shown that mechanisms regulating the genes are crucial.
According to Skinner, the new study helps prove the concept that ancestral environmental exposures and environmental epigenetics promote ovarian disease. Based on the results, biologists can further diagnose exposure to toxicants and the subsequent health impacts. It also opens the door to using epigenetic molecular markers to diagnose ovarian disease before it occurs so new therapies could be developed.
In a broader sense, the study shows how epigenetics can have a significant role in disease development and life itself.
The research appears in the current issue of the online journal PLoS ONE.