Promoting respiratory public health through epigenetics research: an ERS Environment Health Committee workshop report

Erik Melén, Robert Barouki, Maeve Barry, H Marike Boezen, Barbara Hoffmann, Susanne Krauss-Etschmann, Gerard H Koppelman, Bertil Forsberg

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Epigenetics is a rapidly developing research field that is expected to unravel the complex interplay between genes and environmental exposures relevant for health and disease. Epigenetics is classically referred to as heritable phenotypic changes that cannot be explained by changes in DNA sequence. DNA methylation, which is the covalent binding of a methyl group to a cytosine followed by a guanine (CpG), is the most commonly used epigenetic marker in human studies to date. Epigenetics also refers to hydroxymethylation, chromatin remodelling, histone modifications and expression of noncoding RNAs. Recent epidemiological and experimental studies have shown that epigenetic changes are influenced by genetic factors, environmental exposures, ageing and disease processes. In particular, early-life events and exposures seem to strongly influence epigenetic processes such as DNA methylation [1, 2]. From the definition of epigenetics, heritable changes are implied and observations from pre-conceptual exposure studies raise the question whether epigenetic changes really can be inherited at the individual level from one generation to the next [3]. If so, this would have immense public health implications, since generations to come may have to face health consequences of the life their parents and grandparents lived, the diseases they had or the environmental factors they were exposed to. There are, however, many question marks around potential epigenetic effects across generations; from epidemiological and experimental evidence to mechanisms and potential health effects. Here, we report on an European Respiratory Society (ERS) Environment and Health Committee workshop held in March 2017 where epigenetics and transgenerational effects in the field of respiratory research were discussed. The aim of the meeting was to examine the role of ERS advocacy in promoting public health policy in relation to epigenetic mechanisms and to identify future research activities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1702410
JournalEuropean Respiratory Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr-2018


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