Bethesda, MD—If you're expecting, this might make you feel a little better about reaching for that pint of ice cream: New research published online in the FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org) suggests that twins, and babies of mothers who diet around the time of conception and in early pregnancy, may have an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes throughout their lives. This study provides exciting insights into how behavior can lead to epigenetic changes in offspring related to obesity and disease.
"This study may provide a new understanding of why twins can develop diabetes," said Anne White, Ph.D., study author from the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester in Manchester, UK. "It also suggests that dieting around the time a baby is conceived may increase the chance of the child becoming obese later in life."
To make this discovery, White and colleagues conducted experiments involving sheep to investigate twin pregnancies and the effects of altering nutrition around the time of conception and early pregnancy. Specifically, scientists examined the brain tissue of fetal sheep before birth and found that there were changes in the genes that control food intake and glucose levels that may lead to obesity and diabetes. These findings are unique because the differences found in the genes are not inherited changes in the DNA sequence, but rather, epigenetic changes with alterations in the structure of the DNA and its associated proteins, histones, which affects the way that genes can behave in later life.
"This study shows that expecting mothers have to walk a really fine line when it comes to diet and nutrition," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. "It also shows that epigenetics is the 'new genetics': both our DNA and the histones in which it is wrapped are susceptible to binge eating and dieting—we are what our mothers ate."
Receive monthly highlights from the FASEB Journal by e-mail. Sign up at http://www.faseb.org/fjupdate.aspx. The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org) is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and is the most cited biology journal worldwide according to the Institute for Scientific Information. In 2010, the journal was recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century. FASEB is composed of 26 societies with more than 100,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. Celebrating 100 Years of Advancing the Life Sciences in 2012, FASEB is rededicating its efforts to advance health and well-being by promoting progress and education in biological and biomedical sciences through service to our member societies and collaborative advocacy.
Details: Ghazala Begum, Adam Stevens, Emma Bolton Smith, Kristin Connor, John R. G. Challis, Frank Bloomfield, and Anne White. Epigenetic changes in fetal hypothalamic energy regulating pathways are associated with maternal undernutrition and twinning. FASEB J. April 2012 26:1694-1703; doi:10.1096/fj.11-198762 ; http://www.fasebj.org/content/26/4/1694.abstract
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