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Nutr Rev. 2010 Feb;68(2):87-98. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00265.x.

Fetal programming: link between early nutrition, DNA methylation, and complex diseases.

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Department of Human Nutrition and Hygiene, Poznan University of Life Sciences, Wojska Polskiego 31, Poznan, Poland.


Complex traits, including those involved in diet-related diseases, are determined by multiple genes and environmental influences. Factors influencing the development of complex traits should be expanded to include epigenetic factors, such as DNA methylation, which occurs in utero. Epigenetic factors regulate gene expression and thereby cell differentiation and organogenesis. The process of epigenotype establishment is sensitive to environmental conditions, with nutrition being one of the most important related factors. For example, DNA methylation depends on the availability of several nutrients including methionine and vitamins B(6), B(12), and folate. Epidemiological studies show that undernutrition during fetal life is associated with increased susceptibility to complex diseases. Numerous studies have been conducted on prenatal caloric and protein undernutrition. A reduction in the number of cells and changes in the structure and functioning of organs, as well as permanent changes in DNA methylation and gene expression, have been considered the molecular mechanisms responsible for metabolism programming.

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