Perinatal Origins of Adult Disease

Neonatology. 2018;113(4):393-399. doi: 10.1159/000487618. Epub 2018 May 31.


Epidemiological and experimental studies have shown that the peri-conception period, pregnancy, and infancy are windows of particular sensibility to environmental clues which influence lifelong trajectories across health and disease. Nutrition, stress, and toxins induce epigenetic marks that control long-term gene expression patterns and can be transmitted transgenerationally. Chronic diseases of adulthood such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity thus have early, developmental origins in the perinatal period. The early epigenome, in interaction with other actors such as the microbiome, add powerful layers of diversity to the biological predisposition generated by the genome. Such "programming" is a normal, adaptive component of development, including in normal pregnancies and births. However, perinatal disease, either maternal (such as pre-eclampsia, ges-tational diabetes, or inflammatory disease) or fetal, and neonatal diseases (such as intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth) are major conditions of altered programming, translated into an increased risk for chronic disease in these patients when they reach adulthood. Early prevention, optimal perinatal nutrition, and specific follow-up measures are key factors in the early preservation of long-term health.

Keywords: Developmental programming; Epigenetics; Gene expression; Intrauterine growth restriction; Perinatal origins of adult disease; Pre-eclampsia; Preterm birth.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / physiopathology*
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / etiology*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology*
  • Noncommunicable Diseases
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*