Imprinted genes and the environment: links to the toxic metals arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury

Genes (Basel). 2014 Jun 11;5(2):477-96. doi: 10.3390/genes5020477.


Imprinted genes defy rules of Mendelian genetics with their expression tied to the parent from whom each allele was inherited. They are known to play a role in various diseases/disorders including fetal growth disruption, lower birth weight, obesity, and cancer. There is increasing interest in understanding their influence on environmentally-induced disease. The environment can be thought of broadly as including chemicals present in air, water and soil, as well as food. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), some of the highest ranking environmental chemicals of concern include metals/metalloids such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. The complex relationships between toxic metal exposure, imprinted gene regulation/expression and health outcomes are understudied. Herein we examine trends in imprinted gene biology, including an assessment of the imprinted genes and their known functional roles in the cell, particularly as they relate to toxic metals exposure and disease. The data highlight that many of the imprinted genes have known associations to developmental diseases and are enriched for their role in the TP53 and AhR pathways. Assessment of the promoter regions of the imprinted genes resulted in the identification of an enrichment of binding sites for two transcription factor families, namely the zinc finger family II and PLAG transcription factors. Taken together these data contribute insight into the complex relationships between toxic metals in the environment and imprinted gene biology.