Rochester Science

Mom’s diet may affect infant’s future stress-related illnesses, U of R study finds.

Genes do not automatically get expressed. Researchers are finding all manner of methods by which they can be turned on and off. RIT journalism student Jenna Clark tells us about one such path way discovered by U of R researchers.

Consuming a nutrient found in eggs and meat during pregnancy may lower an infant’s vulnerability to stress-related illnesses. Choline influences whether or not a gene is expressed. . High-than-normal amounts of choline in the diet during pregnancy determine the fate of our genes.

The research team chose 26 pregnant women in their third trimester and assigned them to take 480 mg of choline per day, an amount above the recommended 450 mg per day, until delivery. They found that higher maternal choline intake leads to a great amount of DNA methylation. Choline has a handful of nutrients that provides methyl groups for this process.

“The study is important because it shows that a relatively simple nutrient can have significant effects in prenatal life, and that these effects likely continue to have a long-lasting influence on adult life,” said Eva K. Pressman, M.D., study author and director of the high-risk pregnancy program at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “While our results won’t change practice at this point, the idea that maternal choline intake could essentially change fetal genetic expression into adulthood is quite novel.”

Choline can be made in the liver and the is used for liver disease, depression, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and as a supplement taken by pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects in their babies. Studying authors say the findings raise the exciting possibility that choline may be used therapeutically in higher than normal cases of maternal stress from anxiety, depression or other prenatal conditions. Further research is needed to one day figure out if choline is need to be prescribed to pregnant women, in the same way as folate, according to Pressman