Intergenerational molecular, cellular and behavioural effects of a Western-style paternal diet via epigenetic inheritance

Research Opportunity
PhD students, Honours students, Master of Biomedical Science
Number of Honour Places Available
Number of Master Places Available
Primary Supervisor Email Number Webpage
Prof Anthony Hannan
Co-supervisor Email Number Webpage
Dr Carina Bodden

Summary The Epigenetics and Neural Plasticity Laboratory at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health We explore how genes and the environment combine via experience-dependent plasticity in the healthy and diseased brain. Our research includes models of specific neurological and psychiatric disorders which involve cognitive and affective dysfunction, investigated at behavioural, cellular and molecular levels so as to identify pathogenic mechanisms and novel therapeutic targets. Most recently, this has included studies of intergenerational and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.

Project Details

Western diets (WD) with a high proportion of saturated fats and refined sugars have a considerable influence on the development of overweight and obesity. Critically, worldwide obesity tripled between 1975 and 2016. Currently, 1.9 billion adults are overweight, with over 650 million of them being obese. 381 million children and adolescents are affected by overweight or obesity. Obesity-associated comorbidities such as cognitive impairment and anxiety are increasing public health burdens that have particularly gained prevalence in children. Since there is evidence that parental obesity is associated with childhood obesity and its comorbidities via epigenetic programming, it is of utmost importance to unveil the underlying mechanisms as well as the exact consequences parental obesity has on the offspring in order to better understand and prevent the processes that are involved.


The study of how fat and sugar influence sperm RNA and DNA as well as anxiety-related, cognitive, and social behaviours in the offspring is still in its infancy. In particular, the growing numbers of obese children and adolescents call for a detailed investigation of how the exposure to an unhealthy diet in early phases of life can affect spermatogenesis as well as intergenerational and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. The period of adolescence, the transition time from childhood to adulthood, is a critical phase for the developing organism. During this time, substantial remodelling of the brain occurs in response to hormonal and physical changes. Hence, the brain is particularly sensitive to external influences, such as nutrition.

Daily consumption of WD during adolescence may lead to physiological, behavioural, and cognitive impairments as well as alterations in sperm non-coding RNA levels and DNA methylation. Although there are recent indications that paternal obesity can epigenetically affect some aspects of the offspring phenotype, the mechanisms are unclear.

Research Opportunities

PhD students, Honours students, Master of Biomedical Science
Students who are interested in joining this project will need to consider their elegibility as well as other requirements before contacting the supervisor of this research

Graduate Research application

Honours application

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact a supervisor.

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