The fetal origins of memory: the role of dietary choline in optimal brain development

J Pediatr. 2006 Nov;149(5 Suppl):S131-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2006.06.065.


Fetal nutrition sets the stage for organ function in later life. In this review we discuss the fetal and neonatal origins of brain function. Numerous research observations point to the importance of choline for the developing fetus and neonate. This essential nutrient is involved in 1-carbon metabolism and is the precursor for many important compounds, including phospholipids, acetylcholine, and the methyl donor betaine. Dietary intake of choline by the pregnant mother and later by the infant directly affects brain development and results in permanent changes in brain function. In rodents, perinatal supplementation of choline enhances memory and learning functions, changes that endure across the lifespan. Conversely, choline deficiency during these sensitive periods results in memory and cognitive deficits that also persist. Furthermore, recent studies suggest that perinatal choline supplementation can reduce the behavioral effects of prenatal stress and the cognitive effects of prenatal alcohol exposure in offspring. The likely mechanism for these effects of choline involves DNA methylation, altered gene expression, and associated changes in stem cell proliferation and differentiation. The currently available animal data on choline and hippocampal development are compelling, but studies are needed to determine whether the same is true in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Choline / metabolism
  • Choline / pharmacology*
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Methionine / metabolism
  • Nootropic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex Factors


  • Nootropic Agents
  • Folic Acid
  • Methionine
  • Choline