Epigenetics and assisted reproductive technology: a call for investigation

Am J Hum Genet. 2004 Apr;74(4):599-609. doi: 10.1086/382897. Epub 2004 Feb 27.


A surprising set of recent observations suggests a link between assisted reproductive technology (ART) and epigenetic errors--that is, errors involving information other than DNA sequence that is heritable during cell division. An apparent association with ART was found in registries of children with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, Angelman syndrome, and retinoblastoma. Here, we review the epidemiology and molecular biology behind these studies and those of relevant model systems, and we highlight the need for investigation of two major questions: (1) large-scale case-control studies of ART outcomes, including long-term assessment of the incidence of birth defects and cancer, and (2) investigation of the relationship between epigenetic errors in both offspring and parents, the specific methods of ART used, and the underlying infertility diagnoses. In addition, the components of proprietary commercial media used in ART procedures must be fully and publicly disclosed, so that factors such as methionine content can be assessed, given the relationship in animal studies between methionine exposure and epigenetic changes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Angelman Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Angelman Syndrome / genetics
  • Animal Husbandry
  • Animals
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome / genetics
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology
  • Congenital Abnormalities / etiology*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / epidemiology
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / etiology*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted / adverse effects*
  • Retinoblastoma / epidemiology
  • Retinoblastoma / genetics
  • Ruminants / abnormalities
  • Ruminants / genetics