Alcohol effects on the epigenome in the germline: Role in the inheritance of alcohol-related pathology

Lucy G. Chastain, Dipak K. Sarkar

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Excessive alcohol exposure has severe health consequences, and clinical and animal studies have demonstrated that disruptions in the epigenome of somatic cells, such as those in brain, are an important factor in the development of alcohol-related pathologies, such as alcohol-use disorders (AUDs) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). It is also well known that alcohol-related health problems are passed down across generations in human populations, but the complete mechanisms for this phenomenon are currently unknown. Recent studies in animal models have suggested that epigenetic factors are also responsible for the transmission of alcohol-related pathologies across generations. Alcohol exposure has been shown to induce changes in the epigenome of sperm of exposed male animals, and these epimutations are inherited in the offspring. This paper reviews evidence for multigenerational and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of alcohol-related pathology through the germline. We also review the literature on the epigenetic effects of alcohol exposure on somatic cells in brain, and its contribution to AUDs and FASDs. We note gaps in knowledge in this field, such as the lack of clinical studies in human populations and the lack of data on epigenetic inheritance via the female germline, and we suggest future research directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-66
Number of pages14
StatePublished - May 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Biochemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Birth outcome
  • DNA methylation
  • Fetal alcohol
  • Germline transmission
  • Offspring anxiety behavior
  • Offspring stress response
  • Preconception alcohol


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