, Volume 25, Issue 10, pp 677-692,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 25 Sep 2010

Early influences on cardiovascular and renal development

Abstract

The hypothesis that a developmental component plays a role in subsequent disease initially arose from epidemiological studies relating birth size to both risk factors for cardiovascular disease and actual cardiovascular disease prevalence in later life. The findings that small size at birth is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease have led to concerns about the effect size and the causality of the associations. However, recent studies have overcome most methodological flaws and suggested small effect sizes for these associations for the individual, but an potential important effect size on a population level. Various mechanisms underlying these associations have been hypothesized, including fetal undernutrition, genetic susceptibility and postnatal accelerated growth. The specific adverse exposures in fetal and early postnatal life leading to cardiovascular disease in adult life are not yet fully understood. Current studies suggest that both environmental and genetic factors in various periods of life may underlie the complex associations of fetal growth retardation and low birth weight with cardiovascular disease in later life. To estimate the population effect size and to identify the underlying mechanisms, well-designed epidemiological studies are needed. This review is focused on specific adverse fetal exposures, cardiovascular adaptations and perspectives for new studies.