2011 Volume 33 Issue 2 Pages 43-49
Many researchers propose that invisible internal alterations that occur through exposure to environmental factors during fetal or neonatal stages affect the risk of cancer, hypertension, and diabetes after maturation. Barker's hypothesis, which states that reduced fetal growth is strongly associated with metabolic syndromes including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, has now been widely accepted and expanded into the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD). Potential molecular mechanisms underlying this phenomenon include the alteration and persistence of epigenomic programming. Clear biochemical evidence has not yet been obtained in human studies; however, in laboratory animals, the fetal environment including physical and chemical factors altered epigenomic states such as DNA methylation and histone modification, and persistent changes affected specific gene expression regulation, resulting in disease susceptibility. Furthermore, in recent studies, environmental chemical exposure during pregnancy altered sperm DNA methylation patterns of male offspring, and the altered status and resulting phenotypes were inherited in the next generation. Challenging and eccentric studies focusing on epigenetic transgenerational effects are currently being conducted to demonstrate the existence of Lamarckian inheritance.