Epigenetics and maternal factors in offspring obesity

The term “epigenetics” dates back to the 1940s and serious research into the phenomenon began in the 1990s, but a PubMed search of the terms, “epigenetics and obesity” reveals that the first papers on this topic were published only in the early 2000s. The first hints of the importance of epigenetics in the etiology of obesity were that nutritional factors during pregnancy led to obesity in offspring and more recent research shows epigenetic risk from various environmental factors at any time of life.

The International Journal of Obesity has been at the forefront of research into epigenetics and obesity. Early reviews by Gluckman, Lillycrop, and Lavebratt discussed the role of nutritional changes in prenatal life and adulthood in producing increased adiposity. A seminal paper by Waterland in 2008 demonstrated that feeding genetically obese mice a methyl-supplemented diet induced DNA hypermethylation during fetal and early development and was capable of reducing the tendency to adiposity.  Soubry found that newborns of obese vs lean parents have altered DNA methylation patterns at imprinted genes that are associated with increased adiposity. This field is relatively nascent, but its importance is clear. IJO will continue to encourage papers on the most novel research into epigenetics.