Intergenerational influences on child development: an epigenetic perspective
The link between poor maternal nutrition and suboptimal infant and child outcomes is well established, but underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Modifications to the developing offspring epigenome are a plausible mechanism for the transmission of inter-generational signals that could extend to effects of paternal nutrition mediated by epigenetic modifications in sperm.
Matt Silver takes a closer look on studies on human nutritional epigenetics focusing on the potential for DNA changes to mediate ‘inter-generational’ signals, that is methylation changes that arise as a result of direct exposure of the embryo or fetus to maternal factors. In his discussion he explores the work of the group that he is part of, performed in a rural population in The Gambia in Sub-Saharan West Africa. This study exploits a natural experiment whereby fluctuations in energy balance and maternal nutrition exposures show a distinct bimodal pattern corresponding to dry and rainy seasons, demonstrating that season of conception and blood levels of certain nutritional biomarkers in maternal blood plasma predict DNA methylation in infants.