The Impact of this study on developing fetus
Epigenetics Prenatal Development Impact, Many expecting mothers are very careful about what they eat, drink while pregnant to ensure they have a healthy baby. Pregnant women are often told to stay away from alcohol, tobacco, drugs, chemical exposures, and stress, as they all have the potential to affect a developing fetus, but why? when is the fetus most susceptible to these external factors ? Does drinking before you know you are pregnant makes a difference ?We are getting an early glimpse into this window this week. These questions along with many more are all part of the research of Epigenetics and the NEST Program. Epigenetics is epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression caused by external factors outside the parents and fetuses DNA sequence.
The NEST (New Born Epigenetics Study) project is being conducted at Duke University. NEST is a federally funded research project. This project is designed to study how various environmental exposures and nutrition, in the womb and during childhood, affect how genes function. The project is studying various genes believed to play a role in obesity and other diseases, disorders, and conditions
What Epigenetics is telling us ?
According to Susan Kay Murphy, of Duke University School of Medicine, as quoted by NPR. The first week or so after conception appears to be “a particularly vulnerable time where environmental influences can directly affect an epigenetic outcome”
Most of the evidence of Dr. Murphy’s claim came from their work with mice and the agouti protein. A protein that is indirectly responsible for obesity by not regulating the feeling of fullness, and causes the mice to eat non-stop. More technically, Agouti-related protein is primarily expressed in the adrenal gland, subthalamic nucleus and hypothalamus; with lower levels of expression in the testis, kidneys and lungs. The appetite stimulating effects of AgRP are inhibited by the hormone leptin and activated by the hormone ghrelin.
In the study, when the mice were exposed to certain chemicals or put on a special diet during pregnancy, it switches on the agouti gene in their offspring. This caused the mice offsprings to produce a lot of agouti protein, which turns their fur a striking yellow, and prevented these mice from feeling full, regardless of how much they ate, leading to obesity, as well as making them pre-disposed to other associated disease such as developing diabetes and cancer.
In terms of Humans, the study so far has produced results indicating the impact and value of folic acid. Folic Acid is a common vitamin doctors recommend and encourage pregnant women to take to help reduce the risk of developmental problems. According to Dr. Murphy “At the recommended levels, it’s beneficial” however at very high levels pregnant women actually lose that benefit.
What is the future impact of Epigenetics ?
The challenge with Epigenetics is that results of epigenetic changes don’t usually appear at birth, or in early childhood. It may take years even decades before the things that may have impact the fetus at development to show up. Certain things
Dr. and scientist are now looking at epigenetic information in the brain cells of children with autism.
That is because at specific places in the brain they are seeing difference with children that have autism; the goal will be to understand those specific genes that are different, and understand what factors in the environment that may impact these genes in children with Autism. While a complete mapping of these genes are still along way off, this study and research project will make pregnant, and expecting moms more aware of the impact of taking pre-natal vitamins and listening to their doctors.
Reference: This Report was created with information for NEST, Wikipedia, Times, Duke.org and NPR.org