About this Research Topic
Epidemiological research demonstrates a link between an unhealthy fetal and perinatal environment and increased risk for metabolic dysfunction, neuropsychiatric disorder and even addictive-behaviors such as over eating or substance abuse in later life. The adverse consequences of overnutrition or undernutrition during fetal development or early postnatal life and the altered metabolic functions accompanying these critical periods have been recognized, especially for adult metabolic disorders resulting from these dietary exposures. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these processes and the impact they have on long term behavior are still poorly defined. Since the human brain undergoes an extraordinary set of developmental changes during the fetal period and the first few years of life, it is important to explore environmental exposures that can ultimately affect brain plasticity with long term consequences for the rest of an individual’s life. Although many environmental influences are not controllable during early life, it is important to investigate those that can be altered such as nutrient availability which has been shown to dramatically affect developing brain function and thus has profound, long-lasting effects on the adult brain.
Maternal obesity produced by consumption of a diet high in animal fat has been shown to contribute to the development of anxiety-like and depressive-like behavior, substance and/or food addiction, and decreased cognition in the offspring. Moreover, maternal under-nutrition results in derangements of metabolic function, brain development and HPA axis function. The critical window for influencing the brain’s later function appears to be far greater during early life than in adulthood. Therefore, it is important to understand the mechanisms underlying this neural plasticity and how the brain response to either positive or negative stimuli during this period may have a long-term influence on adult brain function.
The role of gene-environment interactions is central to the discussion of the relationship between the early life environment and the origin of disease. This Research Topic has been constructed to encourage and promote research findings that allow us to more readily understand how the perinatal environment, the epigenome, and the genotype of the individual interact to determine susceptibility for metabolic, psychiatric, and/or other pathologies later in life. It is our hope that this collection of current empirical findings, reviews, and commentaries will bring us closer to determining how we could potentially manipulate environmental and epigenetic factors to prevent or treat disorders in individuals at risk.
Keywords: Maternal nutrition, brain development, epigenetic programming, metabolic disease, behavior
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