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Epigenetics and cardiovascular risk in childhood

Martino, Francesco; Magenta, Alessandra; Pannarale, Giuseppe; Martino, Eliana; Zanoni, Cristina; Perla, Francesco M.; Puddu, Paolo E.; Barillà, Francesco

Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine: August 2016 - Volume 17 - Issue 8 - p 539–546
doi: 10.2459/JCM.0000000000000334
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Cardiovascular disease (CVD) can arise at the early stages of development and growth. Genetic and environmental factors may interact resulting in epigenetic modifications with abnormal phenotypic expression of genetic information without any change in the nucleotide sequence of DNA. Maternal dietary imbalance, inadequate to meet the nutritional needs of the fetus can lead to intrauterine growth retardation, decreased gestational age, low birth weight, excessive post-natal growth and metabolic alterations, with subsequent appearance of CVD risk factors. Fetal exposure to high cholesterol, diabetes and maternal obesity is associated with increased risk and progression of atherosclerosis. Maternal smoking during pregnancy and exposure to various environmental pollutants induce epigenetic alterations of gene expression relevant to the onset or progression of CVD. In children with hypercholesterolemia and/or obesity, oxidative stress activates platelets and monocytes, which release proinflammatory and proatherogenic substances, inducing endothelial dysfunction, decreased Doppler flow-mediated dilation and increased carotid intima-media thickness. Primary prevention of atherosclerosis should be implemented early. It is necessary to identify, through screening, high-risk apparently healthy children and take care of them enforcing healthy lifestyle (mainly consisting of Mediterranean diet and physical activity), prescribing nutraceuticals and eventual medications, if required by a high-risk profile. The key issue is the restoration of endothelial function in the reversible stage of atherosclerosis. Epigenetics may provide new markers for an early identification of children at risk and thereby develop innovative therapies and specific nutritional interventions in critical times.

aDepartment of Pediatrics and Child Neuropsychiatry, Sapienza University of Rome

bVascular Pathology Laboratory, Fondazione Luigi Monti, Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata-IRCCS

cDepartment of Cardiovascular, Respiratory, Nephrological, Anesthesiological and Geriatric Sciences, ‘Sapienza’ University of Rome, Rome, Italy

*The authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to Francesco Barillà, MD, Department of Cardiovascular, Respiratory, Nephrological, Anesthesiological and Geriatric Sciences, ‘Sapienza’, University of Rome, Rome, ItalyTel: +39 0649972597; e-mail: francesco.barilla@uniroma1.it

Received 9 June, 2015

Revised 23 September, 2015

Accepted 7 October, 2015

© 2016 Italian Federation of Cardiology. All rights reserved.