ECETOC/Cefic LRI Workshop explores the role of epigenetics in reproductive toxicity

Brussels, July 2016

Epigenetics is a term used to describe relevant biological processes for the regulation of gene transcription in cells, which are not associated with changes in the DNA sequence or alterations in the genetic code itself. Thus epigenetics can change a cell without changing the genetic code. For example all cells in the body have the same genetic code but some become specialised skin cells, liver cells, brain cells etc. The epigenome decides this cell specialisation by controlling gene silencing and activation and defining where and when their expression takes place. Thus epigenetic change is a normal and healthy process occurring throughout life and is responsible for an organism’s ability to adapt to a changing environment. However, external factors might influence or disturb these processes and if epigenetic changes occur in an abnormal fashion, they may result in disease.

Building on the success of an earlier ECETOC workshop in December 2011: Epigenetics and Chemical Safety (See ECETOC Workshop Report no.23), this November 2015 workshop brought together scientists from around the world to discuss and explore if environmental exposure-induced epigenetic changes that occur during foetal development in utero as a response to external factors such as chemical exposure, might be responsible for diseases in adults. The ability to understand and measure epigenetic changes occurring in the developing embryo offers the possibility of predicting disease states in later life. Experts from a range of disciplines including epidemiology, toxicology, epigenomics and regulatory science met over two days ― first to share knowledge and then to brainstorm research needs in the field.

The Workshop offered ideas and suggestions for applied research to address this question. These are being pursued through the CEFIC Long Range Research Initiative (LRI).

The findings of the Workshop have been published as ECETOC Workshop Report no.30: The Role of Epigenetics in Reproductive Toxicity. The Executive Summary and free PDF of the report are available at