Non-genetic inheritance of environmental exposures: a protocol for a map of systematic reviews with bibliometric analysis

Background

Over the last few decades, we increasingly see examples of parental environmental experiences influencing offspring health and fitness. More recently, it has become clear that some non-genetic effects can be conferred across multiple generations. This topic has attracted research from a diversity of disciplines such as toxicology, biomedical sciences, and ecology, due to its importance for environmental and health issues, as well as ecological and evolutionary processes, with implications for environmental policies. The rapid accumulation of primary research has enabled researchers to perform systematic reviews (SRs), including meta-analyses, to investigate the generality of and sources of variation in non-genetic effects. However, different disciplines ask different questions and SRs can vary substantially in scope, quality, and terminology usage. This diversity in SRs makes it difficult to assess broad patterns of non-genetic effects across disciplines as well as determine common areas of interest and gaps in the literature. To clarify research patterns within the SR literature on non-genetic inheritance, we plan to create a map of systematic reviews as well as conduct bibliometric mapping (referred to as ‘research weaving’). We will address four key questions: first, what are the broad research patterns unifying the SR literature on non-genetic inheritance across disciplines? Second, are there discipline-specific research patterns, including terminology use, between disciplines? Third, how are authors of the SR literature connected? Fourth, what is the reliability of the SR literature?

Methods

We will systematically collect reviews within the SR ‘family’ that examine non-genetic inheritance arising from parental and ancestral environment by searching databases for journal articles and grey literature, as well as conducting backwards and forwards searching. Search hits will be double screened using ‘decision trees’ that represent the inclusion criteria. All relevant data elements on the review’s topic, as well as a critical appraisal of the review’s approach and reporting, will be extracted into Excel flat sheets. Bibliometric data will be directly extracted from Scopus. We will then query all relevant data elements to address our objectives and present outcomes in easily interpretable tables and figures, accompanied by a narrative description of results.

Keywords

Environmental effects, Scoping review, Inter-generational inheritance, Trans-generational inheritance, Maternal effects, Paternal effects

In progress