Clinical Epigenetics

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 223-232

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The role of epigenetic dysregulation in the epidemic of allergic disease

  • Susan PrescottAffiliated withSchool Paediatrics and Child Health Research, University of Western AustraliaUWA School Paediatrics and Child Health Research, Princess Margaret Hospital for Children Email author 
  • , Richard SafferyAffiliated withCancer and Disease Epigenetics, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute


The epidemic of allergic disease in early life is one of the clearest indicators that the developing immune system is vulnerable to modern environmental changes. A range of environmental exposures epidemiologically associated with allergic disease have been shown to have effects on the foetal immune function in pregnancy, including microbial burden, dietary changes and environmental pollutants. Preliminary studies now suggest that these early effects on immune development may be mediated epigenetically through a variety of processes that collectively modify gene expression and allergic susceptibility and that these effects are potentially heritable across generations. It is also possible that rising rates of maternal allergy, a recognised direct risk factor for infant allergic disease, may be further amplifying the effects of environmental changes. Whilst effective prevention strategies are the ultimate goal in reversing the allergy epidemic, the specific environmental drivers, target genes, and intracellular pathways and mechanisms of early life immune programming are still unclear. It is hoped that identifying genes that are differentially regulated in association with subsequent allergic disease will assist in identifying causal pathways and upstream contributing environmental factors. In this way, epigenetic paradigms are likely to provide valuable insights into how the early environment can be modified to more favourably drive immune development and reverse the allergic epidemic.


Epigenetics Allergic disease Pregnancy Cord blood Allergy prevention Pregnancy