What is it about?

In this study we investigated the epigenetic profiles of 875 people, aged 7 to 50, and the smoking behaviours of their fathers. We found epigenetic changes at 19 sites mapped to 14 genes in the children of fathers who smoked before the age of 15. These changes in the way DNA is packaged in cells (methylation) regulate gene expression (switching them on and off) and are associated with asthma, obesity and wheezing.

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Why is it important?

Our previous studies of the large international RHINESSA, RHINE and ECRHS cohorts has shown that the health of future generations depends on the actions and decisions made by young people today – long before they are parents – in particular for boys in early puberty and mothers / grandmothers both pre-pregnancy and during pregnancy. In this paper we have now been able to identify a mechanism that potentially explains our observations in the cohorts.


The number of young people smoking has fallen in the UK in recent years, showing the effectiveness of public health measures to limit smoking uptake. However, animal studies suggest that nicotine may be the substance in cigarette smoke that is driving epigenetic changes in offspring so it’s deeply worrying that teenagers today, especially teenage boys, are now being exposed to very high levels of nicotine through vaping. The evidence from this study comes from people whose fathers smoked as teenagers in the 60s and 70s, when smoking tobacco was much more common. We can’t definitely be sure vaping will have similar effects across generations, but we shouldn’t wait a couple of generations to prove what impact teenage vaping might have. We need to act now. A failure to address harmful exposures in young teenagers today could damage the respiratory health of future generations, further entrenching health inequalities for decades to come.

Prof. John W Holloway
University of Southampton

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Fathers’ preconception smoking and offspring DNA methylation, Clinical Epigenetics, August 2023, Springer Science + Business Media,
DOI: 10.1186/s13148-023-01540-7.
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