Washington, DC: Disease risk in later life differs for women and men and now scientists have shown that this may start in the womb.
Pregnancy places competing demands on a mother's physiology: Her body wants to produce a strong healthy baby but not at the expense of her own health. Some of the genes that she passes on to her child therefore try to protect her own body from excessive demands from her child.
These so-called "imprinted genes" inherited from the father however do not show the same restraint - their goal is to get as many resources for the foetus as possible.
"The imprinted genes derived from the father are greedy whilst those from the mother are conservative in their needs to ensure future reproductive success", said Dr. Miguel Constancia from the University of Cambridge, England.
"We have found evidence that imprinted genes play important roles in the control of endocrine functions of the placenta. These placental adaptations have marked effects on nutrient delivery to the foetus, resulting in the programming of homeostatic mechanisms with metabolic consequences extending to adulthood, for example for type 2 diabetes susceptibility," Constancia added.
There is evidence that some programming effects are different in male and female offspring.
Dr. Rachel Dakin from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, shows how maternal obesity is associated with sex-specific programming effects in young adult mice. Female offspring of obese mothers had raised blood insulin levels, whilst male offspring did not. Male offspring did have alterations in the expression of liver genes important in lipid and glucocorticoid metabolism...