Interest in the contribution of changes in lung development during early life to subsequent respiratory morbidity is increasing. Most evidence of an association between adverse intrauterine factors and structural effects on the developing lung is from animal studies. Such evidence has been augmented by epidemiological studies showing associations between insults to the developing lung during prenatal and early postnatal life and adult respiratory morbidity or reduced lung function, and by physiological studies that have elucidated mechanisms underlying these associations. The true effect of early insults on subsequent respiratory morbidity can be understood only if the many prenatal and postnatal factors that can affect lung development are taken into account. Adverse factors affecting lung development during fetal life and early childhood reduce the attainment of maximum lung function and accelerate lung function decline in adulthood, initiating or worsening morbidity in susceptible individuals. In this Review, we focus on factors that adversely affect lung development in utero and during the first 5 years after birth, thereby predisposing individuals to reduced lung function and increased respiratory morbidity throughout life. We focus particularly on asthma and COPD.
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