In the first study, researchers at Sao Paulo State University (UNESP) in Brazil detected alterations in gene expression that may have been associated with the hormone imbalance observed in the rats’ offspring and the heightened risk of prostate cancer.
“Lack of protein during gestation and lactation deregulates the molecular pathways involved in normal development of the prostate, leading to impairment of its growth in young offspring. This was already known,” said lead researcher Luis Antonio Justulin Junior, Professor at the Botucatu Institute of Biosciences (IBB-UNESP).
“We’ve now discovered that a protein-poor diet during the embryo stage and the first two years after birth alters the expression of more than 700 genes in offspring, including the gene ABCG1, which is associated with prostate cancer,” Justulin added.
In the second study, deregulation of a specific type of RNA (microRNA-206) correlated with an early-life increase in the hormone oestrogen, a pronounced trait in the offspring of female rats fed a protein-restricted diet during gestation and lactation, and a factor associated with a heightened risk of prostate cancer.
“The results showed once again how much diet and everything else that happens in the initial stages of development determine the trajectory of health and disease in offspring. They were a key contribution to our understanding of the first 1,000 days of life, the period comprising pregnancy, breastfeeding and infancy until the baby’s second birthday,” Justulin said.
The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Research into the links between maternal health and the development of offspring has advanced significantly in recent decades, especially in a field known as developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD).
There is ample evidence that inadequate gene-environment interaction during the embryo stage and the first two years after birth can be a key factor in increasing the lifelong risk of non-communicable chronic diseases (NCCDs), such as cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory disorders and cardiovascular disease.
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