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Prenatal famine exposure, health in later life and promoter methylation of four candidate genes

  • M. V. Veenendaal (a1), P. M. Costello (a2), K. A. Lillycrop (a3), S. R. de Rooij (a1), J. A. van der Post (a4), P. M. Bossuyt (a1), M. A. Hanson (a2), R. C. Painter (a4) and T. J. Roseboom (a1)...


Poor nutrition during fetal development can permanently alter growth, cardiovascular physiology and metabolic function. Animal studies have shown that prenatal undernutrition followed by balanced postnatal nutrition alters deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) methylation of gene promoter regions of candidate metabolic control genes in the liver. The aim of this study was to investigate whether methylation status of the proximal promoter regions of four candidate genes differed between individuals exposed to the Dutch famine in utero. In addition, we determined whether methylation status of these genes was associated with markers of metabolic and cardiovascular disease and adult lifestyle. Methylation status of the GR1-C (glucocorticoid receptor), PPARγ (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma), lipoprotein lipase and phosphatidylinositol 3 kinase p85 proximal promoters was investigated in DNA isolated from peripheral blood samples of 759 58-year-old subjects born around the time of the 1944–45 Dutch famine. We observed no differences in methylation levels of the promoters between exposed and unexposed men and women. Methylation status of PPARγ was associated with levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides as well as with exercise and smoking. Hypomethylation of the GR promoter was associated with adverse adult lifestyle factors, including higher body mass index, less exercise and more smoking. The previously reported increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease after prenatal famine exposure was not associated with differences in methylation status across the promoter regions of these candidate genes measured in peripheral blood. The adult environment seems to affect GR and PPARγ promoter methylation.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: Dr M. Veenendaal, Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Academic Medical Center, PO Box 22660, 1100 DD Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (Email


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Both authors contributed equally to this work.



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