Board-invited review: intrauterine growth retardation: implications for the animal sciences.
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Intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR), defined as impaired growth and development of the mammalian embryo/fetus or its organs during pregnancy, is a major concern in domestic animal production. Fetal growth restriction reduces neonatal survival, has a permanent stunting effect on postnatal growth and the efficiency of feed/forage utilization in offspring, negatively affects whole body composition and meat quality, and impairs long-term health and athletic performance. Knowledge of the underlying mechanisms has important implications for the prevention of IUGR and is crucial for enhancing the efficiency of livestock production and animal health. Fetal growth within the uterus is a complex biological event influenced by genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors, as well as maternal maturity. These factors impact on the size and functional capacity of the placenta, uteroplacental blood flows, transfer of nutrients and oxygen from mother to fetus, conceptus nutrient availability, the endocrine milieu, and metabolic pathways. Alterations in fetal nutrition and endocrine status may result in developmental adaptations that permanently change the structure, physiology, metabolism, and postnatal growth of the offspring. Impaired placental syntheses of nitric oxide (a major vasodilator and angiogenic factor) and polyamines (key regulators of DNA and protein synthesis) may provide a unified explanation for the etiology of IUGR in response to maternal undernutrition and overnutrition. There is growing evidence that maternal nutritional status can alter the epigenetic state (stable alterations of gene expression through DNA methylation and histone modifications) of the fetal genome. This may provide a molecular mechanism for the role of maternal nutrition on fetal programming and genomic imprinting. Innovative interdisciplinary research in the areas of nutrition, reproductive physiology, and vascular biology will play an important role in designing the next generation of nutrient-balanced gestation diets and developing new tools for livestock management that will enhance the efficiency of animal production and improve animal well being.