Epigenetic modifications regulate the expression of all genes, including those showing dynamic profile associated with cell differentiation and growth. Numerous lines of evidence have confirmed that epigenetic profile is sensitive to a variety of environmental and genetic factors, and that epigenetic mechanisms underpin most environmentally-mediated changes to gene expression. The dynamic process of epigenetic remodeling associated with early human development in utero is thought to be a particularly sensitive period for environmental perturbation and it is therefore not surprising that a variety of adverse pregnancy outcomes are now believed to involve some epigenetic disruption in the developing pregnancy (embryo, fetus, placenta). This chapter summarizes our current understanding of epigenetic mechanisms and the emerging evidence for a link between epigenetic change and pregnancy outcome.
Keywords: Epigenetics, DNA methylation, placenta, fetal programming, imprinting.