Epigenetics of gestational diabetes mellitus and offspring health: the time for action is in early stages of life

Mol Hum Reprod. 2013 Jul;19(7):415-22. doi: 10.1093/molehr/gat020. Epub 2013 Mar 20.


The epidemic increase of type 2 diabetes and obesity in developed countries cannot be explained by overnutrition, physical inactivity and/or genetic factors alone. Epidemiologic evidence suggests that an adverse intrauterine environment, in particular a shortage or excess of nutrients is associated with increased risks for many complex diseases later in life. An impressive example for the 'fetal origins of adult disease' is gestational diabetes mellitus which usually presents in 1% to >10% of third trimester pregnancies. Intrauterine hyperglycemia is not only associated with increased perinatal morbidity and mortality, but also with increased lifelong risks of the exposed offspring for obesity, metabolic, cardiovascular and malignant diseases. Accumulating evidence suggests that fetal overnutrition (and similarly undernutrition) lead to persistent epigenetic changes in developmentally important genes, influencing neuroendocrine functions, energy homeostasis and metabolism. The concept of fetal programming has important implications for reproductive medicine. Because during early development the epigenome is much more vulnerable to environmental cues than later in life, avoiding adverse environmental factors in the periconceptional and intrauterine period may be much more important for the prevention of adult disease than any (i.e. dietetic) measures in infants and adults. A successful pregnancy should not primarily be defined by the outcome at birth but also by the health status in later life.

Keywords: developmental origins hypothesis; fetal overnutrition; fetal programming; gestational diabetes mellitus; metabolic disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes, Gestational / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects