Environmental challenge, epigenetic plasticity and the induction of altered phenotypes in mammals

Epigenomics. 2014;6(6):623-36. doi: 10.2217/epi.14.51.


The level of transcriptional activity of a gene is regulated by epigenetic processes. There is compelling evidence that environmental challenges throughout the life course can induce phenotypic change. In this review, we summarize the current evidence, focusing specifically on the effects of nutrition and of environmental pollutants, that epigenetic processes underpin the induction by environmental change of altered phenotypic traits, emphasizing the implications for health outcomes. We also discuss whether epigenetic processes may be involved in the passage of induced traits between generations. Overall, current findings indicate that epigenetic processes may play an important role in determining disease risk, but there is a lack of studies that demonstrate causal links between epigenetic change and tissue function.

Keywords: DNA methylation; diet; epigenetics; histones; pollution; transgeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation
  • Disease / etiology*
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Mammals / genetics
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Phenotype
  • Risk Factors


  • Environmental Pollutants