Periconceptional environment may influence embryo development, ultimately affecting adult health. Here, we review the rodent model of maternal low-protein diet specifically during the preimplantation period (Emb-LPD) with normal nutrition during subsequent gestation and postnatally. This model, studied mainly in the mouse, leads to cardiovascular, metabolic and behavioural disease in adult offspring, with females more susceptible. We evaluate the sequence of events from diet administration that may lead to adult disease. Emb-LPD changes maternal serum and/or uterine fluid metabolite composition, notably with reduced insulin and branched-chain amino acids. This is sensed by blastocysts through reduced mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 signalling. Embryos respond by permanently changing the pattern of development of their extra-embryonic lineages, trophectoderm and primitive endoderm, to enhance maternal nutrient retrieval during subsequent gestation. These compensatory changes include stimulation in proliferation, endocytosis and cellular motility, and epigenetic mechanisms underlying them are being identified. Collectively, these responses act to protect fetal growth and likely contribute to offspring competitive fitness. However, the resulting growth adversely affects long-term health because perinatal weight positively correlates with adult disease risk. We argue that periconception environmental responses reflect developmental plasticity and 'decisions' made by embryos to optimise their own development, but with lasting consequences.
Bibliographical noteFunding: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/I001840/1, BB/F007450/1), The Medical Research Council (G9800781), the NICHD National Cooperative Program (U01 HD044635) and the EU-FP7 EpiHealth and EpiHealthNet programs.
- cardiometabolic disease
- mammalian target of rapamycin complex signalling
- primitive endoderm