ABSTRACT

The field of epigenetics is currently garnering a great deal of interest, exploring how our very molecular makeup in the form of modifications to the genome can be altered by factors as diverse as aging, disease, nutrition, stress, alcohol, and exposure to pollutants. Epigenetic changes have previously been implicated in the etiology of a variety of diseases [1], notably in the development of certain cancers [2], and inherited growth disorder syndromes [3], but the exploration of epigenetics’ role in fetal programming is still in its infancy. This chapter focuses on how nutritional exposures during pregnancy may affect the infant epigenome, and the impact that such modifications may have on the long-term health of the child. We start by describing some keys concepts in epigenetics and discuss windows of epigenetic plasticity in the context of the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) hypothesis. We then review some of the key mechanisms by which nutrition can affect the epigenome, with a particular focus on the role of one-carbon metabolism. We finish by outlining some of the child health outcomes that have been linked to epigenetic 336dysregulation, and discuss possible next steps that need to be realized if insights into the basic science of epigenetics are to be translated into tangible public health benefits.