The Inheritance of Acquired Epigenetic Variations

Int J Epidemiol. 2015 Aug;44(4):1094-103. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyv020. Epub 2015 Apr 7.


There is evidence that the functional history of a gene in one generation can influence its expression in the next. In somatic cells, changes in gene activity are frequently associated with changes in the pattern of methylation of the cytosines in DNA; these methylation patterns are stably inherited. Recent work suggests that information about patterns of methylation and other epigenetic states can also be transmitted from parents to offspring. This evidence is the basis of a model for the inheritance of acquired epigenetic variations. According to the model, an environmental stimulus can induce heritable chromatin modifications which are very specific and predictable, and might result in an adaptive response to the stimulus. This type of response probably has most significance for adaptive evolution in organisms such as fungi and plants, which lack distinct segregation of the soma and germ line. However, in all organisms, the accumulation of specific and random chromatin modifications in the germ line may be important in speciation, because these modifications could lead to reproductive isolation between populations. Heritable chromatin variations may also alter the frequency and distribution of classical mutations and meiotic recombination. Therefore, inherited epigenetic changes in the structure of chromatin can influence neo-Darwinian evolution as well as cause a type of "Lamarckian" inheritance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Germ Cells
  • Humans
  • Inheritance Patterns*
  • Models, Molecular