Background: The dramatic emergence of noncommunicable diseases (NCD) in Asia, albeit with ethnic variation, has coincided with the rapid socioeconomic and nutritional transition taking place in the region, with the prevalence of diabetes rising 5-fold in Singapore in less than 4 decades. The Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) cohort study recruited 1,247 expectant mothers of Chinese, Malay, or Indian ethnicity in their first trimester, with detailed longitudinal tracking--through the antenatal period, birth, and the child's first 4 years of life--to examine the potential roles of fetal, developmental, and epigenetic factors in early pathways to metabolic and neurodevelopmental outcomes.
Key messages: A number of findings with a translational and clinical focus have already emerged. In the mothers, we found that changes and differences in food consumption varied across ethnic groups, with persistence of traditional beliefs, during pregnancy and the postpartum period. During pregnancy, higher maternal glucose levels, even in the absence of gestational diabetes mellitus, had graded relations with infant adiposity. Relations between maternal emotional health and birth outcomes and neurodevelopment have been identified. Genotype (25%) and in particular gene × environment interactions (75%) shape interindividual variations in the DNA methylome at birth. The complex effects of fixed genetic variations and different in utero environments can influence the epigenetic status at birth and the later-life phenotype.
Conclusions: The richness of the clinical data in 3 ethnicities, the extent of the biospecimen collection, and the extensive infancy and preschool follow-up have allowed us to study the biological pathways that link fetal development to health outcomes. In the coming years, more sophisticated analyses of epigenotype-phenotype relationships will become possible as the children grow and develop. Our studies will lead to the development of clinical and population-based interventions to reduce the burden of NCD.
© 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel.