There are many instances in life when the environment plays a critical role in the health outcomes of an individual, yet none more so than those experienced in fetal and neonatal life. One of the most detrimental environmental problems encountered during this critical growth period are changes in nutrition to the growing fetus and newborn. Disturbances in the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the fetus can not only lead to adverse fetal growth patterns, but they have also been associated with the development of features of metabolic syndrome in adult life. This fetal response has been termed developmental programming or the developmental origins of health and disease. The present review focuses on the epidemiological studies that identified this association and the importance that animal models have played in studying this concept. We also address the potential mechanisms that may underpin the developmental programming of future disease. It also highlights (i) how developmental plasticity, although beneficial for short-term survival, can subsequently programme glucose intolerance and insulin resistance in adult life by eliciting changes in key organ structures and the epigenome, and (ii) how aberrant mitochondrial function can potentially lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes and other features of metabolic syndrome.

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