Jean-Claude Martinou

The role of dietary intake in epigenetic control of gene expression

There is evidence to suggest that the way nutrients are metabolised may play a significant role in the control of gene expression, although currently this is not in the mainstream of scientific research and the importance of mitochondria in this process has yet to be explored.

For over 100 years it has been known that a ketogenic diet, high in fat and lacking carbohydrates, can be helpful in treating epilepsy, although the mechanisms underlying the effects on brain activity are not known. We have found that in a mouse model of epilepsy, the beneficial effects of the ketogenic diet persist even after return to a normal diet, suggesting that longer term epigenetic changes may occur, possibly affecting chromatin structure and/or patterns of gene expression.

We are currently investigating these possibilities as well as the potential role of mitochondria in perpetuating the nutrient-based effects. These findings may also be relevant in the treatment of cancer and diabetes, diseases, which more recently have also been shown to respond favourably to the ketogenic diet.