How do environmental effects lead to common diseases?

In humans, environmental challenges can include early adverse care, sedentary lifestyle, chronic societal stress, psychological trauma, and drug use. While evolutionary adaptation has been extensively studied, phenotypic adaptation to environmental challenges that does not involve a change in DNA sequence remains relatively unknown at the mechanistic level. As evolutionary adaptation is founded in the principle of changes in allele frequency upon natural selection, is the genotype-independent (i.e. epigenetic) adaptation of the phenotype also governed by a general biological principle? Further, while epigenetic adaptation facilitates coping with the environmental challenge, it can also have long term tradeoffs and negative (i.e. maladaptive) consequences such as behavioral abnormalities and metabolic disease. Using mouse models, the Toth Lab aims to build a theoretical framework that explains the principles behind environmentally induced epigenetic adaptation and maladaptation of the phenotype and investigate resulting consequences on health and disease.

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