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Prenatal genistein in soy reduces obesity in offspring

A "methylation" is increasingly identified as the trigger for environmentally-caused gene alterations. During this process, a person's exposure to chemicals, nutrients, or even a behavioral experience such as nurturing can elicit a change in how a specific gene behaves but without altering the genetic sequence in any way.

Rather, the exposure or event prompts a quartet of atoms or "methyl group" to attach to the regulatory region of a gene, where it acts as a switch to activate or silence the gene. Such an effect is called "epigenetic" because it occurs over and above the gene sequence without altering any of the letters of the gene's four-unit code, said Jirtle. Micronutrients can change the extent of DNA methylation by directly donating methyl groups or by altering the efficiency by which DNA methylation is modified, said Jirtle.

In the current study, maternal dietary genistein caused a single mouse gene called "agouti" to become methylated at six specific sites near its regulatory region, thereby reducing the gene's expression. The agouti methylation consistently occurred throughout several germ layers of embryonic tissue, indicating that genistein acted during early embryonic development. Moreover, the methylation changes persisted into adulthood, providing the first evidence that in utero dietary genistein alters epigenetic gene regulation, coat color, and susceptibility to adult obesity in animals.

The agouti gene is not epigentically regulated in humans as it is in the Agouti mouse, said Jirtle. But soy's potential benefits could exert themselves through other human genes whose expression is altered by DNA methylation, he said.

"Methylation is a common event in the human genome, and it is a highly malleable effect that occurs during rapid periods of development, but it can also occur in childhood and even in adulthood," he said.

Because many infants receive soy milk, the impact of genistein in humans should be carefull
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Contact: Becky Levine
levin005@mc.duke.edu
919-684-4148
Duke University Medical Center
28-Mar-2006


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