Inheritance of Obesity-Related Cardiac Conditions

By Yasaman Khorsandian

Diets high in fat and sugar have long been recognized as the culprit for causing various heart problems. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine shows that these medical conditions can be passed down for at least three generations, even if the following generations maintain a healthy diet. The inheritance of such cardiac conditions has been linked to changes in the epigenome of the fertilized egg; the epigenome is a crucial portion of the genetic material that determines how the rest of the DNA is read and executed. The epigenetic changes can lead to structural abnormalities in the cardiac mitochondria, which in turn does not allow them to consume as much oxygen as their normal counterparts, resulting in conditions such as insulin resistance. Moreover, the researchers observed an increase in the mass of the left ventricle in the mice produced by obese mothers, which often times leads to cardiac failure.

Another main finding of this study was that the cardiac mitochondrial abnormalities were passed down by both the male and female offspring. Many scientists previously thought that only the female offspring would continue to pass down these genes, but the results of the study prove that the offspring of fathers who had obese mothers also developed cardiac conditions. The researchers plan to continue working with these mice to find out why these cardiac conditions do not stop with a single generation. Although the heart problems caused by maternal obesity were passed down, if the following generations maintained a healthy diet throughout their lives, the inherited medical conditions somewhat dissipated over time. For this reason, the researchers recommend exercise and a healthy diet to all individuals, regardless of their family history with obesity.


Washington University School of Medicine. (2019, March 22). Obese mouse mothers trigger heart problems in offspring. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 31, 2019 from