Environmental epigenetics: prospects for studying epigenetic mediation of exposure-response relationships

Hum Genet. 2012 Oct;131(10):1565-89. doi: 10.1007/s00439-012-1189-8. Epub 2012 Jun 28.


Changes in epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation and histone acetylation are associated with a broad range of disease traits, including cancer, asthma, metabolic disorders, and various reproductive conditions. It seems plausible that changes in epigenetic state may be induced by environmental exposures such as malnutrition, tobacco smoke, air pollutants, metals, organic chemicals, other sources of oxidative stress, and the microbiome, particularly if the exposure occurs during key periods of development. Thus, epigenetic changes could represent an important pathway by which environmental factors influence disease risks, both within individuals and across generations. We discuss some of the challenges in studying epigenetic mediation of pathogenesis and describe some unique opportunities for exploring these phenomena.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epigenomics
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genomics
  • Humans