Environmental stresses induce transgenerationally inheritable survival advantages via germline-to-soma communication in Caenorhabditis elegans
Hormesis is a biological phenomenon, whereby exposure to low levels of toxic agents or conditions increases organismal viability. It thus represents a beneficial aspect of adaptive responses to harmful environmental stimuli. Here we show that hormesis effects induced in the parental generation can be passed on to the descendants in Caenorhabditis elegans. Animals subjected to various stressors during developmental stages exhibit increased resistance to oxidative stress and proteotoxicity. The increased resistance is transmitted to the subsequent generations grown under unstressed conditions through epigenetic alterations. Our analysis reveal that the insulin/insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signalling effector DAF-16/FOXO and the heat-shock factor HSF-1 in the parental somatic cells mediate the formation of epigenetic memory, which is maintained through the histone H3 lysine 4 trimethylase complex in the germline across generations. The elicitation of memory requires the transcription factor SKN-1/Nrf in somatic tissues. We propose that germ-to-soma communication across generations is an essential framework for the transgenerational inheritance of acquired traits, which provides the offspring with survival advantages to deal with environmental perturbation.