The Epitox group
The Molecular Toxicology and Epigenetics (EpiTox) group focusses on understanding molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals on (neuro)development. In particular, we are focussing on epigenetic changes, i.e. long-lasting changes in gene regulation that do not involve alteration in the DNA sequence.
What is the problem?
We are exposed to a cocktail of thousands of chemicals on an everyday basis, some of which have the property to interfere with our endogenous hormonal system. Exposure to these so-called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) is associated with a number of diseases drastically increasing in the general population, such as obesity, infertility, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Epigenetic changes induced by early life exposures could underlie such associations and could thus be highly valuable markers to predict disease risk.
Why is our research needed?
Whilst there is growing evidence from both epidemiological and experimental studies to support an important role of epigenetics in the EDC field, there is still a lack of
a) Mechanistic insights how EDCs affect epigenetic regulation, and
b) Conclusive links between exposure, epigenetic changes and adversity.
What do we do?
The EpiTox group combines mechanistic studies in cellular models, analyses of exposed experimental animals, and insights from epidemiological data. Using this interdisciplinary approach, we aim to contribute to a better understanding of the risks posed by EDC-exposure in early life and to develop novel testing methods, based on epigenetic endpoints, that can be ultimately integrated into EDC testing strategies.
How we do this?
We are testing a variety of EDCs, as single compounds and in mixtures, including different bisphenols and phthalates (used in plastics), per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and pesticide metabolites. In our lab, we test their effects on different cell models, such as human mesenchymal stem cells, neural precursors and blood brain barrier models. The effects are checked on the transcriptional (qPCR), DNA methylation (bisulfite-pyrosequencing), and morphological level (high-content imaging). In collaboration, we also analyse DNA methylation and mRNA expression in tissues from animal models and human samples.