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Epigenetic legacy of parental experiences: Dynamic and interactive pathways to inheritance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 September 2016

Frances A. Champagne*
Columbia University
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Frances A. Champagne, Department of Psychology, Columbia University, 406 Schermerhorn Hall, 1190 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027; E-mail:


The quality of the environment experienced by an individual across his or her lifespan can result in a unique developmental trajectory with consequences for adult phenotype and reproductive success. However, it is also evident that these experiences can impact the development of offspring with continued effect on subsequent generations. Epigenetic mechanisms have been proposed as a mediator of both these within- and across-generation effects, and there is increasing evidence to support the role of environmentally induced changes in DNA methylation, posttranslational histone modifications, and noncoding RNAs in predicting these outcomes. Advances in our understanding of these molecular modifications contribute to increasingly nuanced perspectives on plasticity and transmission of phenotypes across generations. A challenge that emerges from this research is in how we integrate these “new” perspectives with traditional views of development, reproduction, and inheritance. This paper will highlight evidence suggestive of an epigenetic impact of the environment on mothers, fathers, and their offspring, and illustrate the importance of considering the dynamic nature of reproduction and development and inclusive views of inheritance within the evolving field of behavioral and environmental epigenetics.

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