Epigenetics and maternal nutrition: nature v. nurture

Proc Nutr Soc. 2011 Feb;70(1):73-81. doi: 10.1017/S0029665110003988. Epub 2010 Nov 29.


Under- and over-nutrition during pregnancy has been linked to the later development of diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Epigenetic modifications may be one mechanism by which exposure to an altered intrauterine milieu or metabolic perturbation may influence the phenotype of the organism much later in life. Epigenetic modifications of the genome provide a mechanism that allows the stable propagation of gene expression from one generation of cells to the next. This review highlights our current knowledge of epigenetic gene regulation and the evidence that chromatin remodelling and histone modifications play key roles in adipogenesis and the development of obesity. Epigenetic modifications affecting processes important to glucose regulation and insulin secretion have been described in the pancreatic β-cells and muscle of the intrauterine growth-retarded offspring, characteristics essential to the pathophysiology of type-2 diabetes. Epigenetic regulation of gene expression contributes to both adipocyte determination and differentiation in in vitro models. The contributions of histone acetylation, histone methylation and DNA methylation to the process of adipogenesis in vivo remain to be evaluated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipogenesis / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics*
  • Prenatal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / genetics*


  • Chromatin
  • Histones