DNA methylation, environmental exposures and early embryo development
The first crucial step in the developmental program occurs during pre-implantation, the time after the oocyte has been fertilized and before the embryo implants in the uterus. This period represents a vulnerable window as the epigenome undergoes dynamic changes in DNA methylation profiles. Alterations in the early embryonic reprogramming wave can impair DNA methylation patterns and induce permanent changes to the developmental program, leading to the onset of adverse health outcomes in offspring. Although there is an increasing body of evidence indicating that harmful exposures during preimplantation embryo development can trigger lasting epigenetic alterations in offspring, the mechanisms are still not fully understood. Since physiological or pathological changes in DNA methylation can occur as a response to environmental cues, proper environmental milieu plays a critical role in the success of embryonic development. In this review, we depict the mechanisms behind the embryonic epigenetic reprogramming of DNA methylation and highlight how maternal environmental stressors (e.g., alcohol, heat stress, nutrient availability) during pre-implantation and assisted reproductive technology procedures affect development and DNA methylation marks.
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