Barker Hypothesis

Barker Hypothesis, maternal fetal programming and human health

Contributed by Michael Joyner

Epidemiologic and anthropological studies in humans have shown that maternal (and thus fetal) under or over nutrition can have implications for the lifelong health of the offspring especially as it relates to metabolic regulation and blood pressure.  For example fetal under or over nutrition can increase the risk of obesity, hypertension and diabetes in the offspring especially if they are subsequently exposed to an environment with plentiful food.   Importantly, these effects can be multigenerational even in the absence of in utero nutritional stress.   Additionally, these population based observations have been confirmed in animal models.  These multigenerational effects are not the result of specific changes in the sequences of DNA that code for proteins important in the regulation of metabolism and blood pressure.   They highlight the limitations of the DNA centric view of human phenotypic variation and are a key example of soft inheritance.  They emphasize the idea that complex multidirectional interactions between the environment, behavior, physiological regulation and adaptation, and the genome explain human phenotypic variation.

 For more information see:

 Calkins K, Devaskar SU (2011).  Fetal origins of adult disease.  Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care. 41:158-76.