"This study may help us understand whether epigenetic mechanisms contribute to chronic disease susceptibility already prior to birth," study author Karin Michels of the Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a statement. "We are currently exploring which stressors during prenatal life may contribute to these epigenetic -- modifications to the genome -- disruptions."
Michels and colleagues examined the expression pattern of imprinted genes important for growth and development.
The researchers analyzed the parental expression pattern in the cord blood and placenta of more than 100 infants and followed up this analysis with additional studies.
The results lent credence to the emerging theme that susceptibility to disease may indeed originate in the womb before a child is born, Michels said.
The findings were published in the FASEB Journal.