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Common phenotypes and the developmental origins of disease

McMullen, Saraha; Swali, Angieb

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: July 2013 - Volume 16 - Issue 4 - p 398–404
doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361f879
GENES AND CELL METABOLISM: Edited by Lynette R. Ferguson and Philip Newsholme

Purpose of review The association between nutrition during pregnancy and the development of metabolic disease in the offspring has been well evidenced in humans and animals. Whilst evidence has accumulated to support various theories linking maternal diet to long-term health, the precise mechanisms of action remain poorly understood. This review summarizes recent advances within the field, focusing on the use of animal models to investigate common phenotypic outcomes.

Recent findings Continued characterization of postnatal phenotypes has highlighted the importance of postnatal diet in unmasking programming effects of prenatal diet. Whilst common phenotypes are observed across models, differences in associated regulatory processes exist dependent upon the dietary exposure used and sex of the offspring. The use of unbiased techniques at developmental stages has identified gene pathways sensitive to maternal diet, potentially explaining the induction of a common phenotype by different nutritional interventions. Evidence has also grown to support the role of epigenetic modification, with an increasing range of targets identified as being sensitive.

Summary A challenge remains in identifying the direct functional and long-term consequences of changes in gene expression or epigenetic status during development, and to translate these back to human populations.

aDivision of Nutritional Sciences

bDivision of Food Sciences, School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough, UK

Correspondence to Dr Sarah McMullen, Division of Nutritional Sciences, School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough LE12 5RD, UK. Tel: +44 115 9516106; e-mail:

© 2013 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins