Lead exposure in mothers can affect more than one generation

A team of researchers at Wayne State University have discovered that mothers with high levels of lead in their blood not only affect the fetal cells of their unborn children, but also their grandchildren. Their study, Multigenerational epigenetic inheritance in humans: DNA methylation changes associated with maternal exposure to lead can be transmitted to the grandchildren, was published online this week in Scientific Reports.

It’s a known fact that babies in the womb can be affected by low levels of lead exposure. If a pregnant woman is exposed to lead, the lead passes through the placenta into the baby’s developing bones and other organs. Pregnant women with a past exposure to lead can also affect the unborn child’s brain, causing developmental problems later in life. Previous research studies have suggested that exposure to heavy metal toxicants can influence a person’s global DNA methylation profile.

In the recent Wayne State study led by Douglas Ruden, Ph.D….program leader in the Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors, he and his research team revealed that lead exposure can cause specific changes in DNA methylation, which can be detected in dried blood spots beyond one generation. The neonatal blood spots from both the mothers and children in this study were obtained from the Michigan Neonatal Biobank, a unique resource that has most of the neonatal dried blood spots from children born in Michigan since 1984…

“Our results suggest that lead exposure during pregnancy affects the DNA methylation status of the fetal germ cells, which leads to altered DNA methylation in grandchildren’s neonatal dried blood spots,” said Ruden. “This is the first demonstration that an environmental exposure in pregnant mothers can have an epigenetic effect on the DNA methylation pattern in the grandchildren.”

The research team stated that this novel, two-generational study design might be able to identify the genes that may serve as possible candidate biomarkers for future transgenerational risk assessment studies.

Consider the creeps who despoil the world’s environment in their quest for short-term profits not only may be shortening your own life; but, that of your children – and, now, we know the effects may proceed directly to your grandchildren.

And the contaminated environment hangs around even longer.