Generation Scotland

Parent-of-Origin effects could be influenced by environment

The research, using Generation Scotland volunteer data, may help highlight some genes as potential new targets for treatments.

Mixed Race Family

The genes we inherit from our parents play a major role in deciding our characteristics. Alongside our upbringing and lifestyle, genes affect our appearance and chance of getting different health conditions.

For most genes, children inherit two genes from each parent and both of these genes influence their characteristics. However, for a few genes (less than 1%), only the copy of the gene from one parent is active in their child. That's despite copies of the gene being inherited from both parents. Depending on the gene, it could be either the copy of the gene from the mother or the father that is active. Because of this behaviour, these genes are said to display “parent-of-origin” effects. For some of these genes, rare mutations are linked with particular rare health conditions.

In a previous study using Generation Scotland volunteer data, Dr. Yanni Zeng and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh identified about 300 new regions of the genome that showed parent-of-origin effects. You can read all about that below.

Mum or dad? Parent-of-origin effects on metabolic traits

The researchers were able to do this by studying a chemical modification of the genetic material DNA, called methylation. In many cases, the methylation in parent-of-origin regions may be altered by nearby genetic variants depending on the parent from which the mutation was inherited. This methylation can affect the way genes are expressed and influence characteristics in an individual.

Now a new partnership has been formed between Professor Chris Haley, Dr. Pau Navarro and other colleagues at the University of Edinburgh with Dr. Yanni Zeng, now based at Sun Yat-Sen University in China. Together, they used Generation Scotland volunteer data and found that these parent-of-origin effects may be influenced by a person's environment. This could include smoke exposure or influences of genes outside of the parent-of-origin regions.

The findings were published in the journal EBioMedicine and can be found in the link below.

Lifestyle and Genetic Factors Modify Parent-of-Origin Effects on the Human Methylome

The result of this alteration may be to modify the influence these inborn parent-of-origin genetic regions have on a person’s characteristics or disease susceptibility. This finding is important because it identifies a route by which environmental effects may influence the expression of genes, therefore individual characteristics. Also, the genetic regions involved may help highlight some genes as potential new targets for drugs designed to treat certain health conditions.