Epigenetics of Childhood Obesity
Purpose of Review: We sought to describe how epigenetics, the study of potentially heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence, has promise in the development of effective preventive interventions for childhood obesity. Recent Findings: Three main mechanisms cause epigenetic changes: DNA methylation, histone and chromatin modification, and post-translational regulation, including that by microRNAs (miRNAs). These mechanisms may be altered by a variety of exposures, and evidence suggests they act at multiple time points prior to conception, during pregnancy, and during infancy and childhood. Epigenetic changes, particularly DNA methylation, have been associated with birth weight, early childhood, and teenage obesity. Each epigenetic mechanism raises the possibility of therapeutics. DNA methylation may be affected by maternal and paternal diet, exercise, and supplements. Histone and chromatin modification can be altered by histone deacetylase inhibitors and other small molecules. miRNAs are already being studied in cancer and type 2 diabetes. Summary: Although epigenetics is in its infancy, it could provide an important link between maternal exposures and childhood metabolic outcomes.