Exposure to stress in the womb due to maternal smoking or diet may affect genes increasing your risk of disease later, a new Harvard study has found.
Researchers from the university have found that epigenetic disruptions, which are associated with chronic disease later in life, are already common at birth.
Possibly, these aberrations result from stressors in the intrauterine environment (e.G. Maternal smoking, maternal diet, or high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals), researchers said.
This finding supports the belief that seeds of disease are sown before birth, increasing the importance of optimal prenatal care.
"This study may help us understand whether epigenetic mechanisms contribute to chronic disease susceptibility already prior to birth," said Karin Michels, study author from Harvard Medical School in Boston.
"We are currently exploring which stressors during prenatal life may contribute to these epigenetic disruptions," said Michels.
To make this discovery, Michels and colleagues examined the expression pattern of imprinted genes important for growth and development.
Researchers analysed the parental expression pattern in the cord blood and placenta of more than 100 infants and followed up this analysis with methylation and expression studies.
The results lent credence to the emerging theme that susceptibility to disease may indeed originate in utero.
Additionally, this research showed that a high degree of disruption occurred during the imprinting of a gene called IGF2, which was expressed from both alleles in the cord blood of 22 per cent of study subjects.
Loss of imprinting of IGF2 has been associated with several cancers, including Wilms Tumour, colorectal and breast cancer and childhood disorders such as Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome, researchers said.
The study was published in The FASEB Journal.