, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 129-140
Date: 14 Mar 2012

Mechanisms affecting neuroendocrine and epigenetic regulation of body weight and onset of puberty: Potential implications in the child born small for gestational age (SGA)

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

Signaling peptides produced in peripheral tissues such as gut, adipose tissue, and pancreas communicate with brain centers, such as hypothalamus and hindbrain to manage energy homeostasis. These regulatory mechanisms of energy intake and storage have evolved during long periods of hunger in the evolution of man to protect the species from extinction. It is now clear that these circuitries are influenced by prenatal and postnatal environmental factors including endocrine disruptive chemicals. Hypothalamic appetite regulatory systems develop and mature in utero and early infancy, and involve signaling pathways that are important also for the regulation of puberty onset. Recent studies in humans and animals have shown that metabolic pathways involved in regulation of growth, body weight gain and sexual maturation are largely affected by epigenetic programming that can impact both current and future generations. In particular, intrauterine and early infantile developmental phases of high plasticity are susceptible to factors that affect metabolic programming that therefore, affect metabolic function throughout life. In children born small for gestational age, poor nutritional conditions during gestation can modify metabolic systems to adapt to expectations of chronic undernutrition. These children are potentially poorly equipped to cope with energy-dense diets and are possibly programmed to store as much energy as possible, leading to later obesity, metabolic syndrome, disturbed regulation of normal puberty and early onset of cardiovascular disease. Most cases of disturbed energy balance are likely a result of a combination of genetics, epigenetics and environment. This review will discuss potential mechanisms linking intrauterine growth retardation with changes in growth, energy homeostasis and sexual maturation.