The new 'epigenetics:' Poor nutrition in the womb causes permanent genetic changes in the offspring

Apr 13, 2009

The new science of epigenetics explains how genes can be modified by the environment, and a prime result of epigenetic inquiry has just been published online in The FASEB Journal: You are what your mother did not eat during pregnancy. In the research report, scientists from the University of Utah show that rat fetuses receiving poor nutrition in the womb become genetically primed to be born into an environment lacking proper nutrition. As a result of this genetic adaptation, the rats were likely to grow to smaller sizes than their normal counterparts. At the same time, they were also at higher risk for a host of health problems throughout their lives, such as diabetes, growth retardation, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and neurodevelopmental delays, among others. Although the study involved rats, the genes and cellular mechanisms involved are the same as those in humans.

"Our study emphasizes that maternal-fetal health influences multiple healthcare issues across generations," said Robert Lane, professor of pediatric neonatology at the University of Utah, and one of the senior researchers involved in the study. "To reduce adult diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and , we need to understand how the maternal-fetal environment influences the health of offspring."

The scientists made this discovery through experiments involving two groups of rats. The first group was normal. The second group had the delivery of nutrients from their mothers' placentas restricted in a way that is equivalent to preeclampsia. The rats were examined right after birth and again at 21 days (21 days is essentially a preadolescent rat) to measure the amount of a protein, called IGF-1, that promotes normal development and growth in rats and humans. They found that the lack of nutrients caused the gene responsible for IGF-1 to significantly reduce the amount of IGF-1 produced in the body before and after birth.

"The new 'epigenetics' has taught us how nature is changed by nurture," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The . "The jury's in and, yes, expectant moms really are eating for two. This study shows not only that we need to address problems such as preeclampsia during pregnancy, but also that prenatal care is far more important than anyone could have imagined a decade ago."

More information: Qi Fu, Xing Yu, Christopher W. Callaway, Robert H. Lane, and Robert A. McKnight. Epigenetics: intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) modifies the histone code along the rat hepatic IGF-1 gene. FASEB J. doi:10.1096/fj.08-124768 www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/abstract/fj.08-124768v1

Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (news : web)

Explore further: Ultrasound enhancement provides clarity to damaged tendons, ligaments

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A new soldier in the war on cancer: The blind mole rat

Mar 04, 2009

If someone ever calls you a "dirty rat," consider it a compliment. A new discovery published online in the FASEB Journal shows that cellular mechanisms used by the blind mole rat to survive the very low oxygen environment of its ...

Anesthesia or hypothermia: Warning for Alzheimer's patients

Mar 11, 2009

Everyone knows that its important to keep a cool head, but a new study published online in The FASEB Journal shows that for Alzheimer's patients, a cool head may make the disease worse. In the research report, scientists show t ...

Eating eggs when pregnant affects breast cancer in offspring

Dec 01, 2008

A stunning discovery based on epigenetics (the inheritance of propensities acquired in the womb) reveals that consuming choline—a nutrient found in eggs and other foods—during pregnancy may significantly affect breast ...

Age at puberty linked to mother's prenatal diet

Jun 16, 2008

A high-fat diet during pregnancy and nursing may lead to the child having an early onset of puberty and subsequent adulthood obesity, according to a new animal study. The results were presented Monday, June 16, at The Endocrine ...

'Smart scaffolds' may help heal broken hearts

Jan 12, 2009

Canadian researchers have, for the first time, developed an organic substance that attracts and supports cells necessary for tissue repair and can be directly injected into problem areas. This development, published online ...

Recommended for you

A better way to track emerging cell therapies using MRIs

Sep 19, 2014

Cellular therapeutics – using intact cells to treat and cure disease – is a hugely promising new approach in medicine but it is hindered by the inability of doctors and scientists to effectively track the movements, destination ...

User comments : 0