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First evidence that prenatal exposure to famine may lead to persistent epigenetic changes
Date:10/30/2008

rmation," says L.H. Lumey, MD, MPH, PhD, associate clinical professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and senior author. "If there are indeed relationships between adverse conditions during development and adult health, then these epigenetic changes might provide a mechanism to explain the link." Ezra Susser, MD, DrPH, co-author, and Anna Cheskis Gelman and Murray Charles Gelman Professor and chair of Epidemiology at the Mailman School, noted, "These findings are particularly intriguing in light of our reports on increased rates of schizophrenia after early gestational exposure to famine." Drs. Lumey and Susser are also leaders of the Imprints Center for Genetic and Environmental Lifecourse Studies at the Mailman School, which includes the Dutch Famine Study as one of its affiliated studies.

The findings also show that birth weight is not a good marker for individuals with changes in methylation. Epigenetic differences were found among individuals who were exposed to famine early in gestation who have normal birth weights. For comparison purposes, the researchers also studied individuals who were exposed late in gestation and who therefore had lower birth weights. They did not see methylation changes in this group however. The study used sibling controls to avoid many potential study biases.

"Our study illustrates that to monitor the crucial stages of early development, we can not rely on birth weight alone as an indicator of maternal nutrition. We must use our knowledge of the crucial events that took place during that period," observes Dr. Lumey. As the next step, the Leiden group led by Drs. Heijmans and Slagboom will examine with Dr. Lumey the effect of famine on other human genes. They are also interested in the effect of other specific exposures during early development, including folic acid supplementation around conception as these may have an effect on methylation in the developing fetus.

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Contact: Stephanie Berger
sb2247@columbia.edu
212-305-4372
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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