Nongenetic inheritance and transgenerational epigenetics

Trends Mol Med. 2015 Feb;21(2):134-44. doi: 10.1016/j.molmed.2014.12.004. Epub 2014 Dec 19.


The idea that inherited genotypes define phenotypes has been paramount in modern biology. The question remains, however, whether stable phenotypes could be also inherited from parents independently of the genetic sequence per se. Recent data suggest that parental experiences can be transmitted behaviorally, through in utero exposure of the developing fetus to the maternal environment, or through either the male or female germline. The challenge is to delineate a plausible mechanism. In the past decade it has been proposed that epigenetic mechanisms are involved in multigenerational transmission of phenotypes and transgenerational inheritance. The prospect that ancestral experiences are written in our epigenome has immense implications for our understanding of human behavior, health, and disease.

Keywords: DNA methylation; epigenetics; germline transmission; histone modification; noncoding RNA; transgenerational.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Germ Cells / metabolism
  • Heredity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phenotype