Epigenetics and environment: a complex relationship

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2010 Jul;109(1):243-51. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00068.2010. Epub 2010 Apr 8.


The epigenomes of higher organisms constantly change over time. Many of these epigenetic changes are necessary to direct normal cellular development and differentiation in the developing organism. However, developmental abnormalities may occur in response to inappropriate epigenetic signaling that occurs secondarily to still poorly understood causes. In addition to genetic and stochastic influences on epigenetic processes, epigenetic variation can arise as a consequence of environmental factors. Here we review the effects of such environmental factors on the epigenomes of higher organisms. We discuss the possible impact of epigenetic changes on physiological and pathophysiological processes, depending in part on whether these changes occur during embryonic development or adulthood.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation
  • Environment*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Rats