Rosenberg Tali et al.
The question of whether behavioral traits are heritable is under debate. An obstacle in demonstrating transgenerational inheritance in mammals originates from the maternal environment's effect on offspring phenotype. Here, we used in ovo embryonic heat conditioning (EHC) of first-generation chicks, demonstrating heredity of both heat and immunological resilience, confirmed by a reduced fibril response in their untreated offspring to either heat or LPS challenge. Concordantly, transcriptome analysis confirmed that EHC induces changes in gene expression in the anterior preoptic hypothalamus (APH) that contribute to these phenotypes in the offspring. To study the association between epigenetic mechanisms and trait heritability, DNA-methylation patterns in the APH of offspring of control versus EHC fathers were evaluated. Genome-wide analysis revealed thousands of differentially methylated sites (DMSs), which were highly enriched in enhancers and CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) sites. Overlap analysis revealed 110 differentially expressed genes that were associated with altered methylation, predominantly on enhancers. Gene-ontology analysis shows pathways associated with immune response, chaperone-mediated protein folding, and stress response. For the proof of concept, we focused on HSP25 and SOCS3, modulators of heat and immune responses, respectively. Chromosome conformational capture (3C) assay identified interactions between their promoters and methylated enhancers, with the strongest frequency on CTCF binding sites. Furthermore, gene expression corresponded with the differential methylation patterns, and presented increased CTCF binding in both hyper- and hypomethylated DMSs. Collectively, we demonstrate that EHC induces transgenerational thermal and immunological resilience traits. We propose that one of the mechanisms underlying inheritance depends on three-dimensional (3D) chromatin reorganization.