“We find that exposures to chemicals early in life such as BPA found in plastic can reprogram the expression of genes in the liver in a way that changes liver metabolism and leads to fat accumulation in adulthood.”  

Dr. Walker said these chemical exposures may interfere with the epigenetic ‘programmers’ to do their job. She said it is similar to a glitch on a computer that causes a software program to get installed incorrectly. 

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This reprogramming of the liver could potentially drive obesity, according to Dr. Walker, said that unlike genetic defects, epigenetic programming can be reversed. She said it may be possible to reset the malprogramming or ‘malware’ to reduce the risk for obesity and associated diseases.

In addition, she said it may be possible to use these epigenetic changes as markers in order to better identify which children may be at risk for obesity and other diseases. Future studies will be aimed at identifying the pathways and epigenetic targets responsible for reprogramming of genes that may contribute to the obesogenic activity of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), according to Dr. Walker. 

“Many diseases such as obesity may actually be caused by environmental exposures very early in life, long before the diseases themselves become evident. Understanding how this happens, and whether we can reverse the effects of these early environmental exposures to prevent obesity later in life is our next big challenge,” said Dr. Walker.


  1. Trevino L et al. Abstract OR14-4. Presented at: The Endocrine Society’s 97th Annual Meeting & Expo (ENDO 2015); March 5-8, 2015; San Diego.