Epigenetic Programming Through Breast Milk and Its Impact on Milk-Siblings Mating

Front Genet. 2020 Oct 2:11:569232. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2020.569232. eCollection 2020.


Background: The epigenetic effects of transmission of certain regulatory molecules, such as miRNAs, through maternal milk on future generations, are still unknown and have not been fully understood yet. We hypothesized that breastfeeding regularly by adoptive-mother may cause transmission of miRNAs as epigenetic regulating factors to the infant, and the marriage of milk-siblings may cause various pathologies in the future generations.

Results: A cross-fostering model using a/a and A vy /a mice had been established. F2 milk-sibling and F2 control groups were obtained from mating of milk-siblings or unrelated mice. Randomized selected animals in the both F2 groups were sacrificed for miRNA expression studies and the remainings were followed for phenotypic changes (coat color, obesity, hyperglycemia, liver pathology, and life span). The lifespan in the F2 milk-sibling group was shorter than the control group (387 vs 590 days, p = 0.011) and they were more obese during the aging period. Histopathological examination of liver tissues revealed abnormal findings in F2 milk-sibling group. In order to understand the epigenetic mechanisms leading to these phenotypic changes, we analyzed miRNA expression differences between offspring of milk-sibling and control matings and focused on the signaling pathways regulating lifespan and metabolism. Bioinformatic analysis demonstrated that differentially expressed miRNAs were associated with pathways regulating metabolism, survival, and cancer development such as the PI3K-Akt, ErbB, mTOR, and MAPK, insulin signaling pathways. We further analyzed the expression patterns of miR-186-5p, miR-141-3p, miR-345-5p, and miR-34c-5p and their candidate target genes Mapk8, Gsk3b, and Ppargc1a in ovarian and liver tissues.

Conclusion: Our findings support for the first time that the factors modifying the epigenetic mechanisms may be transmitted by breast milk and these epigenetic interactions may be transferred transgenerationally. Results also suggested hereditary epigenetic effects of cross-fostering on future generations and the impact of mother-infant dyad on epigenetic programming.

Keywords: breast milk; cross-fostering; epigenetic regulatory mechanisms; life span; miRNA; transgenerational inheritance.