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 (http://www.
"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 cardiovascular disease, 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 FASEB Journal. "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."
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Details: 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 http://www.