Stella Aslibekyan, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the UAB Department of Epidemiology, and Devin Absher, Ph.D., Faculty Investigator at HudsonAlpha, received a grant to investigate the “Functional epigenomics and transgenerational inheritance of in utero metabolic stress.” The working group brings together experts from multiple areas of inquiry, equipped with distinct methodological toolkits: animal models of metabolism, statistical (epi)genetics, laboratory science, and developmental biology. They proposed an epigenome- and transcriptome-wide study of in utero stress and its downstream effects on metabolism in a mouse model. They aim to answer the questions: is the metabolic stress that a mother experiences during gestation associated with DNA methylation and gene expression changes in the hypothalamus of the offspring, and are these changes associated with impaired metabolism during the offspring’s adulthood? Furthermore, are the offspring differences in DNA methylation inherited or environmentally programmed by in utero experience to metabolic stress?

“The CGM grant is a great opportunity to learn about the molecular mechanisms that underlie the strong associations between DNA methylation and metabolism that our group has observed in epidemiologic studies,” said Dr. Aslibekyan. “The rodent model, however imperfect, allows experimental manipulation that would not be feasible in humans, enabling us to establish actual cause-and-effect relationships instead of mere correlations. I feel like I can ‘swing for the fences’ and ask all these questions that have kept me up at night since we first saw these associations.”

The investigators are, Dr. Aslibekyan (co-PI and communicating PI), Kirk Habegger, Ph.D. (co-PI), Dr. Absher and two other faculty members from UAB.