Institute Activities and Advances
Epigenetics research at the NICHD is supported or conducted through multiple organizational units, including (but not limited to) the following:
Within the Developmental Biology and Structural Variation Branch, the Development and Clinical Genetics and Genomics program focuses on epigenetic and genomic regulation of gene expression. The program uses animal and human stem cells to study fundamental processes involved in the regulation of cell fate commitment and differentiation.
The NICHD’s Pediatric Growth and Nutrition Branch is interested in epigenetic changes that serve as markers of changes during growth and development and of exposure to nutrients, stress, and other factors in the environment. Gaining a better understanding of epigenetic processes could also inform an understanding of the developmental origins of health and disease and systems biology.
The portion of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch (IDDB) that focuses on epigenetics and developmental epigenetics research is multifaceted, including attention to the roles of methylation, histone modification, imprinting, and other epigenetic factors in the pathogenesis of IDD. It has also led to enhanced support for research and workshops within the Branch’s portfolio:
- IDDB staff led an Epigenetics and Systems Biology Working Group for the NICHD in 2008 that hosted six seminars featuring area scientists. They also participated in NIH-wide seminars related to these research interests.
- In 2010, the IDDB sponsored a Workshop on the Epigenetic Basis of IDD.
- In addition, a number of Branch-supported grants focus on three specific epigenetic disorders—Angelman syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and Rett syndrome.
The Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch (PPB) issued a program announcement in 2008 to stimulate research ideas in the field of epigenetics and announced plans to support training in epigenetics.
The Fertility and Infertility (FI) Branch administers the NICHD’s Reproductive Genetics and Epigenetics program, which focuses on the study of epigenetics in the context of fertility, infertility, and the reproductive process. The FI branch supports research on epigenetic topics include the timing and mechanisms of epigenetic changes in the formation of sperm, eggs and early embryos, the contribution of epigenetics to reproductive health and diseases, including infertility, the effects of assisted reproductive techniques on gametes and early embryos, and the role of epigenetic mechanisms in the control of when embryonic stem cells will renew themselves or differentiate into other cell types. In addition to its ongoing portfolio of grants in reproductive epigenetics, the FI branch issued a request for applications in 2009 to stimulate more research in the area of epigenetic processes at key points in development (RFA-HD-09-033, "Epigenetic Processes in Development").
The Section on Epigenetics and Development in the Division of Intramural Research is involved in the study of Turner syndrome, also called XO Syndrome, a disorder affecting 1 in 2,000 girls, in which one or a portion of one of the two X chromosomes is missing.
Other Activities and Advances
The National Children’s Study, the largest long-term study of human health ever conducted in the United States, includes the study of relationships between environmental exposures and genetics and how these relationships shape growth, development, and health.