Epigenetic stability in a stressful environment and its effects on reproductive function

We will explore how stress in early life influences reproductive health in females through a network of researchers in epigenetics and social science. The focus will be on groups of Bangladeshi migrants who in previous studies have shown different levels of reproductive function depending on where they lived when they were young.

A network of researchers in epigenetics and social science

In previous studies, groups of Bangladeshi migrants have shown different levels of reproductive function. Those who grew up in Bangladesh (with greater exposure to infectious diseases) have consistently lower biomarkers of reproductive function, including hormone levels like progesterone. 

We are looking at possible epigenetic mechanisms that might explain this lower reproductive function. Rates of epigenetic ageing will be compared between groups through analyses of DNA methylation patterns to assess whether early life stress has altered the epigenetic clock. 

Epigenetic stability of methylation patterns

We will evaluate the epigenetic stability of methylation patterns in the luteinising hormone receptor (LHR) gene. The methylation patterns of the LHR will be compared across Bangladeshi groups to assess whether epigenetic mechanisms can help to explain differences in progesterone levels. We will look at the regulation of genes and hormones that control the processes of reproduction in mice that are exposed to different environments when they are young. We hypothesise that the treated mice will have a delayed onset of puberty and also lower levels of progesterone. The mouse buccal tissue will be compared to human buccal tissue from a group of Bangladeshi volunteers.

Epigenetic mechanisms affecting reproduction

Our research could inform us about presently unknown epigenetic mechanisms affecting reproductive variability that results from stress during early life development, as well as the utility of a mouse model for these kinds of studies. It will also highlight the possibility of using different tissue types to detect some of these epigenetic modifications. 

Opportunities for future researchers

This study will present opportunities to train new generations of multi-disciplinary researchers. 

Early life influences health and wellbeing in adulthood

We hope to demonstrate the potential of targeted, cross-sectional studies in migrant groups to answer questions of interest to epigeneticists and social scientists, particularly about the importance of early life in influencing individual health and wellbeing during adulthood.

Principal Investigator

Professor Gillian Bentley

Professor of Anthropology

Durham University

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