The Effect of Nutrition during Early Life on the Epigenetic Regulation of Transcription and Implications for Human Diseases

Centre for Biological Sciences, Institute of Developmental Sciences, Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK.
Journal of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics (Impact Factor: 2). 01/2011; 4(5):248-60. DOI: 10.1159/000334857
Source: PubMed


Epigenetic processes which include DNA methylation, histone modification and miRNAs are integral in determining when and where specific genes are expressed. There is now increasing evidence that the epigenome is susceptible to a variety of environmental cues, such as nutrition, during specific periods of development. The changes induced by early-life nutrition may reflect an adaptive response of the foetus to environmental cues acting through the process of developmental plasticity. This may allow an organism to adjust its developmental programme resulting in long-term changes in its metabolism and physiology in order to be better matched to the future environment. However, when the future environment lies outside the anticipated range, metabolic and homoeostatic capacity will be mismatched with the environment and that individual will be at increased risk of developing a range of non-communicable diseases. Thus the environmental regulation of epigenetic processes is a central component in the developmental origins of non-communicable diseases and our understanding of these processes is, therefore, critical both for the identification of individuals at risk and for the development of new intervention strategies.

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    • "These epigenetic factors can cause long lasting or even heritable changes in biological programs (Levi and Sanderson, 2004; Rosales et al., 2009; Murgatroyd and Spengler, 2011; Lillycrop and Burdge, 2012). It has been shown in animal and more recently in human studies that nutrition is one of the most salient environmental factors, and that nutrition can have a direct effect on gene expression (Levi and Sanderson, 2004; Rosales et al., 2009; Attig et al., 2010; Lillycrop and Burdge, 2011; Jiménez-Chillarón et al., 2012). One of the first and best known human studies in the rapidly growing field of " Nutritional Epigenomics " relates to the Dutch Hunger Winter during the 1940's in which the offspring of mothers exposed to famine during pregnancy had an increased risk of cardiovascular, kidney, lung, and metabolic disorders and reduced cognitive functions (Roseboom et al., 2006; De Rooij et al., 2010). "
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