DURHAM, N.C. -- A father's obesity is one factor that may influence his children's health and potentially raise their risk for diseases like cancer, according to new research from Duke Medicine.
The study, which appears Feb. 6 in the journal BMC Medicine, is the first in humans to show that paternal obesity may alter a genetic mechanism in the next generation, suggesting that a father's lifestyle factors may be transmitted to his children.
"Understanding the risks of the current Western lifestyle on future generations is important," said molecular biologist Adelheid Soubry, PhD, a postdoctoral associate at Duke Cancer Institute and the study's lead author. "The aim of this study was to determine potential associations between obesity in parents prior to conception and epigenetic profiles in offspring, particularly at certain gene regulatory regions."
Researchers looking at health outcomes in newborns have historically focused on pregnant women. Studies have shown that nutrition and environmental factors during pregnancy can affect children's health and may raise their risk of chronic diseases. However, little has been done to uncover how paternal factors can affect children.
The Duke research team sought to determine associations between obesity in parents and changes in DNA methylation at the insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) gene among offspring. DNA methylation regulates the activity of certain genes, which can reflect a higher risk for some diseases. Decreased DNA methylation at the IGF2 gene has been associated with an increased risk of developing certain cancers, including colorectal and ovarian cancers.
"Our genes are able to adapt to our environment. However, we adjust in a way that may be problematic later," said Cathrine Hoyo, PhD, MPH, a cancer epidemiologist at Duke Medicine and the study's senior author. "It is not a change in the sequence of the DNA itself, but how genes are expressed. Some g
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Duke University Medical Center