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Dipali Goyal, Sean W Limesand and Ravi Goyal

Maternal and paternal factors influence offspring development and program its genome for successful postnatal life. Based on the stressors during gestation, the pregnant female prepares the fetus for the outside environment. This preparation is achieved by changing the epigenome of the fetus and is referred to as ‘developmental programming’. For instance, nutritional insufficiency in utero will lead to programming events that prepare the fetus to cope up with nutrient scarcity following birth; however, offspring may not face nutrient scarcity following birth. This discrepancy between predicted and exposed postnatal environments are perceived as ‘stress’ by the offspring and may result in cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. Thus, this developmental programming may be both beneficial as well as harmful depending on the prenatal vs postnatal environment. Over the past three decades, accumulating evidence supports the hypothesis of Developmental Origin of Health and Disease (DOHaD) by the programming of the fetal phenotype without altering the genotype per se. These heritable modifications in gene expression occur through DNA methylation, histone modification and noncoding RNA-associated gene activation or silencing, and all are defined as epigenetic modifications. In the present review, we will summarize the evidence supporting epigenetic regulation as a significant component in DOHaD.

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Kok Lim Kua, Shanming Hu, Chunlin Wang, Jianrong Yao, Diana Dang, Alexander B Sawatzke, Jeffrey L Segar, Kai Wang and Andrew W Norris

Offspring exposed in utero to maternal diabetes exhibit long-lasting insulin resistance, though the initiating mechanisms have received minimal experimental attention. Herein, we show that rat fetuses develop insulin resistance after only 2-day continuous exposure to isolated hyperglycemia starting on gestational day 18. Hyperglycemia-induced reductions in insulin-induced AKT phosphorylation localized primarily to fetal skeletal muscle. The skeletal muscle of hyperglycemia-exposed fetuses also exhibited impaired in vivo glucose uptake. To address longer term impacts of this short hyperglycemic exposure, neonates were cross-fostered and examined at 21 days postnatal age. Offspring formerly exposed to 2 days late gestation hyperglycemia exhibited mild glucose intolerance with insulin signaling defects localized only to skeletal muscle. Fetal hyperglycemic exposure has downstream consequences which include hyperinsulinemia and relative uteroplacental insufficiency. To determine whether these accounted for induction of insulin resistance, we examined fetuses exposed to late gestational isolated hyperinsulinemia or uterine artery ligation. Importantly, 2 days of fetal hyperinsulinemia did not impair insulin signaling in murine fetal tissues and 21-day-old offspring exposed to fetal hyperinsulinemia had normal glucose tolerance. Similarly, fetal exposure to 2-day uteroplacental insufficiency did not perturb insulin-stimulated AKT phosphorylation in fetal rats. We conclude that fetal exposure to hyperglycemia acutely produces insulin resistance. As hyperinsulinemia and placental insufficiency have no such impact, this occurs likely via direct tissue effects of hyperglycemia. Furthermore, these findings show that skeletal muscle is uniquely susceptible to immediate and persistent insulin resistance induced by hyperglycemia.

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Lin-guo Pei, Qi Zhang, Chao Yuan, Min Liu, Yun-fei Zou, Feng Lv, Da-ji Luo, Shan Zhong and Hui Wang

Prenatal caffeine exposure (PCE) can induce testicular developmental toxicity. Here, we aimed to explore the underlying mechanism of this process in reference to its intrauterine origin. Pregnant rats were intragastrically administrated caffeine (30 and 120 mg/kg/day) from gestational days 9 to 20. The results showed that the male fetuses exposed to high dose of caffeine (120 mg/kg/day) had a decreased bodyweight and inhibited testosterone synthetic function. Meanwhile, their serum corticosterone concentration was elevated and their testicular insulin-like growth factor 1 (Igf1) expression was decreased. Moreover, the histone 3 lysine 14 acetylation (H3K14ac) level in the Igf1 promoter region was reduced. Low-dose (30 mg/kg/day) caffeine exposure, however, increased steroidogenic enzymes expression in male fetuses. After birth, the serum corticosterone concentration gradually decreased in the PCE (120 mg/kg/day) offspring rats, whereas the expression and H3K14ac level of Igf1 gradually increased, with obvious catch-up growth and testicular development compensation. Intriguingly, when we subjected the offspring to 2 weeks of chronic stress to elevate the serum corticosterone concentration, the expression of Igf1 and testosterone synthesis were inhibited again in the PCE (120 mg/kg/day) group, accompanied by a decrease in the H3K14ac level in the Igf1 promoter region. In vitro, corticosterone (rather than caffeine) was proved to inhibit testosterone production in Leydig cells by altering the H3K14ac level and the expression of Igf1. These observations suggested that PCE-induced testicular developmental toxicity is related to the negative regulation of corticosterone on H3K14ac levels and the expression of Igf1.

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David Scoville, Kristin Lichti-Kaiser, Sara Grimm and Anton Jetten

The Krüppel-like zinc finger transcription factor Gli-similar 3 (GLIS3) plays a critical role in the regulation of pancreatic beta cells, with global Glis3 knockout mice suffering from severe hyperglycemia and dying by post-natal day 11. In addition, GLIS3 has been shown to directly regulate the early endocrine marker Ngn3, as well as Ins2 gene expression in mature beta cells. We hypothesize that GLIS3 regulates several other genes critical to beta cell function, in addition to Ins2, by directly binding to regulatory regions. We therefore generated a pancreas-specific Glis3 deletion mouse model (Glis3Δpanc) using a Pdx1-driven Cre mouse line. Roughly 20% of these mice develop hyperglycemia by 8-weeks and lose most of their insulin expression. However, this did not appear to be due to loss of the beta cells themselves, as no change in cell death was observed. Indeed, presumptive beta cells appeared to persist as PDX1+/INS-/MAFA-/GLUT2- cells. Islet RNA-seq analysis combined with GLIS3 ChIP-seq analysis revealed apparent direct regulation of a variety of diabetes related genes, including Slc2a2 and Mafa. GLIS3 binding near these genes coincided with binding for other islet-enriched transcription factors, indicating these are distinct regulatory hubs. Our data indicates that GLIS3 not only regulates insulin expression, but several additional genes critical for beta cell function.

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Jessica Pierce, Ke-Hong Ding, Jianrui Xu, Anuj Sharma, Kanglun Yu, Natalia del Mazo Arbona, Zuleika Rodriguez-Santos, Paul Bernard, Wendy Bollag, Maribeth H Johnson, Mark Hamrick, Dana Begun, Xing Ming Shi, Carlos M Isales and Meghan E McGee-Lawrence

Excess fat within bone marrow is associated with lower bone density. Metabolic stressors such as chronic caloric restriction (CR) can exacerbate marrow adiposity, and increased glucocorticoid signaling and adrenergic signaling are implicated in this phenotype. The current study tested the role of glucocorticoid signaling in CR-induced stress by conditionally deleting the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) in bone marrow osteoprogenitors (Osx1-Cre) of mice subjected to CR and ad libitum diets. Conditional knockout of the GR (GR-CKO) reduced cortical and trabecular bone mass as compared to wildtype (WT) mice under both ad libitum and CR conditions. No interaction was detected between genotype and diet, suggesting that the GR is not required for CR-induced skeletal changes. The lower bone mass in GR-CKO mice, and the further suppression of bone by CR, resulted from suppressed bone formation. Interestingly, treatment with the -adrenergic receptor antagonist propranolol mildly but selectively improved metrics of cortical bone mass in GR-CKO mice during CR, suggesting interaction between adrenergic and glucocorticoid signaling pathways that affects cortical bone. GR-CKO mice dramatically increased marrow fat under both ad libitum and CR-fed conditions, and surprisingly propranolol treatment was unable to rescue CR-induced marrow fat in either WT or GR-CKO mice. Additionally, serum corticosterone levels were selectively elevated in GR-CKO mice with CR, suggesting the possibility of bone-hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal crosstalk during metabolic stress. This work highlights the complexities of glucocorticoid and β-adrenergic signaling in stress-induced changes in bone mass, and the importance of GR function in suppressing marrow adipogenesis while maintaining healthy bone mass.

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Rui Song, Xiang-Qun Hu and Lubo Zhang

Glucocorticoids are primary stress hormones and can improve neonatal survival when given to pregnant women threatened by preterm birth or to preterm infants. It has become increasingly apparent that glucocorticoids, primarily by interacting with glucocorticoid receptors, play a critical role in late gestational cardiac maturation. Altered glucocorticoid actions contribute to the development and progression of heart disease. The knowledge gained from studies in the mature heart or cardiac damage is insufficient but a necessary starting point for understanding cardiac programming including programming of the cardiac microenvironment by glucocorticoids in the fetal heart. This review aims to highlight the potential roles of glucocorticoids in programming of the cardiac microenvironment, especially the supporting cells including endothelial cells, immune cells and fibroblasts. The molecular mechanisms by which glucocorticoids regulate the various cellular and extracellular components and the clinical relevance of glucocorticoid functions in the heart are also discussed.

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Anna E. Bollag, Tianyang Guo, Ke-Hong Ding, Vivek Choudhary, Xunsheng Chen, QIng Zhong, Jianrui Xu, Kanglun Yu, Mohamed E. Awad, Mohammed Elsalanty, Maribeth H Johnson, Meghan E McGee-Lawrence, Wendy Bollag and Carlos M Isales

Osteoporosis, low bone mass that increases fracture susceptibility, affects approximately 75 million individuals in the United States, Europe and Japan, with the number of osteoporotic fractures expected to increase by more than 3-fold over the next 50 years. Bone mass declines with age, although the mechanisms for this decrease are unclear. Aging enhances production of reactive oxygen species, which can affect bone formation and breakdown. The multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera contains dimethylfumarate, which is rapidly metabolized to monomethylfumarate (MMF); MMF is thought to function through nuclear factor erythroid-derived-2-like-2 (Nrf2), a transcription factor activated by oxidative stress which induces the expression of endogenous anti-oxidant systems. We hypothesized that MMF-elicited increases in anti-oxidants would inhibit osteopenia induced by ovariectomy, as a model of aging-related osteoporosis and high oxidative stress. We demonstrated that MMF activated Nrf2 and induced anti-oxidant Nrf2 target gene expression in bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells. Sham-operated or ovariectomized adult female mice were fed chow with or without MMF and various parameters monitored. Ovariectomy produced the expected effects, decreasing bone mineral density and increasing body weight, fat mass, bone marrow adiposity and serum receptor activator of nuclear factor-kappa-B ligand (RANKL) levels. MMF decreased fat but not lean mass. MMF improved trabecular bone microarchitecture after adjustment for body weight, although the unadjusted data showed few differences; MMF also tended to increase adjusted cortical bone and to reduce bone marrow adiposity and serum RANKL levels. Because these results suggest the possibility that MMF might be beneficial for bone, further investigation seems warranted.

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Patrycja A Jazwiec and Deborah M Sloboda

It is well established that early life environmental signals, including nutrition, set the stage for long-term health and disease risk – effects that span multiple generations. This relationship begins early, in the periconceptional period and extends into embryonic, fetal and early infant phases of life. Now known as the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD), this concept describes the adaptations that a developing organism makes in response to early life cues, resulting in adjustments in homeostatic systems that may prove maladaptive in postnatal life, leading to an increased risk of chronic disease and/or the inheritance of risk factors across generations. Reproductive maturation and function is similarly influenced by early life events. This should not be surprising, since primordial germ cells are established early in life and thus vulnerable to early life adversity. A multitude of ‘modifying’ cues inducing developmental adaptations have been identified that result in changes in reproductive development and impairments in reproductive function. Many types of nutritional challenges including caloric restriction, macronutrient excess and micronutrient insufficiencies have been shown to induce early life adaptations that produce long-term reproductive dysfunction. Many pathways have been suggested to underpin these associations, including epigenetic reprogramming of germ cells. While the mechanisms still remain to be fully investigated, it is clear that a lifecourse approach to understanding lifetime reproductive function is necessary. Furthermore, investigations of the impacts of early life adversity must be extended to include the paternal environment, especially in epidemiological and clinical studies of offspring reproductive function.

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Miguel A Velazquez, Tom P Fleming and Adam J Watkins

The concept emerging from Professor David Barker’s seminal research on the developmental origins of later-life disease has progressed in many directions since it was first published. One critical question being when during gestation might environment alter the developmental programme with such enduring consequences. Here, we review the growing consensus from clinical and animal research that the period around conception, embracing gamete maturation and early embryogenesis might be the most vulnerable period. We focus on four types of environmental exposure shown to modify periconceptional reproduction and offspring development and health: maternal overnutrition and obesity; maternal undernutrition; paternal diet and health; and assisted reproductive technology. These conditions may act through diverse epigenetic, cellular and physiological mechanisms to alter gene expression and cellular signalling and function in the conceptus affecting offspring growth and metabolism leading to increased risk for cardiometabolic and neurological disease in later life.

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Yuan Ni, Dan Xu, Feng Lv, Yang Wan, Guanlan Fan, Wen Zou, Yunxi Chen, Lin-guo Pei, Jing Yang and Hui Wang

Prenatal ethanol exposure (PEE) adversely affects the offspring reproductive system. We aimed to confirm the susceptibility to premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) in female PEE offspring and elucidate its intrauterine programming mechanism. The pregnant Wistar female rats were intragastrically administered with 4 g/kg×d of ethanol from gestational day (GD) 9 to 20. Offspring reproductive parameters were detected on GD20, postnatal week (PW) 6, and PW12. The PEE foetuses showed a decreased number of oocytes, increased ovarian cell apoptosis, and upregulated expression levels of ovarian insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) signaling pathway and steroidogenic enzymes. The proportion of atretic follicles in adult rats was increased, while the number of anti-Müllerian hormone-positive antral follicles was decreased. The serum oestradiol (E2) levels were decreased, but the follicle stimulation hormone levels were elevated. The ovarian Igf1 signaling pathway was transformed from activation during puberty to relative inhibition in adulthood, and the expression levels of ovarian steroidogenic enzymes were inhibited in adulthood. Furthermore, we treated the human granulosa cell line KGN with different ethanol concentrations (15, 30, 60, 120 mM) and found that the expression of IGF1 signaling pathway components, 3β-HSD, and P450arom, as well as the production of E2, was increased. After IGF1 siRNA transfection, P450arom expression and E2 production were downregulated. These results suggest that PEE induces POI susceptibility in adult females, which may be caused by over-activation of the foetal ovarian Igf1 signaling pathway and steroidogenesis under PEE, resulting in accelerated early development of folliculogenesis and depletion of primordial follicles.