The early embryonic environment has been shown to be remarkably influential on the developing organism, despite the relative brevity of this developmental stage. The cells of the zygote and cleavage-stage embryo hold the potential to form all cell lineages of the embryonic and extra-embryonic tissues, with gradual fate restriction occurring from the time of compaction and blastocyst formation. As such, these cells carry with them the potential to influence the phenotype of all successive cell types as the organism grows, differentiates and ages. The implication is, therefore, that sublethal adverse conditions which alter the developmental trajectory of these cells may have long-term implications for the health and development of the resulting offspring. One confirmed mechanism for the translation of environmental cues to phenotypic outcome is epigenetic modification of the genome to modulate chromatin packaging and gene expression in a cell- and lineage-specific manner. The influence of the periconceptional milieu on the epigenetic profile of the developing embryo has become a popular research focus in the quest to understand the effects of environment, nutrition and assisted reproduction technology on human development and health.
Keywords: DNA methylation; assisted reproduction technology; epigenetics; maternal environment; preimplantation.
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