Epigenetic modifications of gene expression by lifestyle and environment

Arch Pharm Res. 2017 Nov;40(11):1219-1237. doi: 10.1007/s12272-017-0973-3. Epub 2017 Oct 17.


Epigenetics oftenly described as the heritable changes in gene expression independent of changes in DNA sequence. Various environmental factors such as nutrition-dietary components, lifestyle, exercise, physical activity, toxins, and other contributing factors remodel the genome either in a constructive or detrimental way. Since epigenetic changes are reversible and nutrition is one of the many epigenetic regulators that modify gene expression without changing the DNA sequence, dietary nutrients and bioactive food components contribute to epigenetic phenomena either by directly suppressing DNA methylation or histone catalyzing enzymes or by changing the availability of substrates required for enzymatic reactions. Diets that contain catechol-dominant polyphenols are reported to suppress enzyme activity and activate epigenetically silenced genes. Furthermore, several dietary nutrients play a crucial role in one-carbon metabolism including folate, cobalamin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, and methionine by directly affecting S-adenosyl-L-methionine. Soy polyphenols block DNA methyltransferases and histone deacetylases to reverse aberrant CpG island methylation. Organosulfur rich compounds such as the sulforaphane found in broccoli appear to normalize DNA methylation and activate miR-140 expression, which represses SOX9 and ALDH1 and decreases tumor growth. The purpose of this short communication is to overview the epigenetic regulatory mechanisms of diet and other environmental factors. We discuss the epigenetic contributions of dietary components with a particular focus on nutritional polyphenols and flavonoids as epigenetic mediators that modify epigenetic tags and control gene expression. These mechanisms provide new insights to better understand the influence of dietary nutrients on epigenetic modifications and gene expression.

Keywords: Diet; Environment; Epigenetics; Exercise; Flavonoids; Polyphenol.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence / genetics
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Diet
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Food*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Life Style