Maternal perturbations or sub-optimal conditions during development are now recognized as contributing to the onset of many diseases manifesting in adulthood. This "developmental programming" of disease has been explored using animal models allowing insights into the potential mechanisms involved. Impaired renal development, resulting in a low nephron number, has been identified as a common outcome that is likely to contribute to the development of hypertension in the offspring as adults. Changes in other organs and systems, including the heart and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, have also been found. Evidence has recently emerged suggesting that epigenetic changes may occur as a result of developmental programming and result in permanent changes in the expression patterns of particular genes. Such epigenetic modifications may be responsible not only for an increased susceptibility to disease for an individual, but indirectly for the establishment of a disease state in a subsequent generation. Further research in this field, particularly examination as to whether epigenetic changes to genes affecting kidney development do occur, are essential to understanding the underlying mechanisms of developmental programming of disease.
- Epigenetic modification
- Prenatal programming