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Nutr Rev. 2013 Jul;71(7):441-57. doi: 10.1111/nure.12030. Epub 2013 May 15.

The epigenome as a potential mediator of cancer and disease prevention in prenatal development.

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Linus Pauling Science Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA.


Epigenetic events establish a particular gene expression signature for each cell type during differentiation and fertilization. Disruption of these epigenetic programs in response to environmental stimuli during prenatal exposure dysregulates the fetal epigenome, potentially impacting susceptibility to disease later in life (the fetal basis of adult disease). Maternal dietary modifications during gestation and lactation play a pivotal role in the period of fetal (re)programming. Recently, many studies have demonstrated the impact of maternal nutrition on the fetal epigenome. This review discusses the complex interplay among various environmental factors and epigenetic mechanisms that have been found to affect offspring in human and animal models. Further, it summarizes the impact of various dietary phytochemicals capable of modulating the epigenome with regard to diverse human cancers and childhood cancer, specifically those with potential environmental etiology through maternal consumption during pregnancy and lactation. Other dietary agents that are still untested as to their effectiveness in transplacental studies are also discussed. The recent developments discussed herein enhance current understanding of how chemopreventive agents act and their potential to impact the prenatal epigenome; they may also aid efforts to identify dietary interventions that can be beneficial in treating and preventing disease.


cancer; chemoprevention; dietary phytochemicals; environmental pollutants; fetal epigenome; transplacental

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