Many mechanisms purport to explain how nutritional signals during early development are manifested as disease in the adult offspring. While these describe processes leading from nutritional insult to development of the actual pathology, the initial underlying cause of the programming effect remains elusive. To establish the primary drivers of programming, this study aimed to capture embryonic gene and protein changes in the whole embryo at the time of nutritional insult rather than downstream phenotypic effects. By using a cross-over design of two well established models of maternal protein and iron restriction we aimed to identify putative common “gatekeepers” which may drive nutritional programming.Both protein and iron deficiency in utero reduced the nephron complement in adult male Wistar and Rowett Hooded Lister rats (P<0.05). This occurred in the absence of damage to the glomerular ultrastructure. Microarray, proteomic and pathway analyses identified diet-specific and strain-specific gatekeeper genes, proteins and processes which shared a common association with the regulation of the cell cycle, especially the G1/S and G2/M checkpoints, and cytoskeletal remodelling. A cell cycle-specific PCR array confirmed the down-regulation of cyclins with protein restriction and the up-regulation of apoptotic genes with iron deficiency.The timing and experimental design of this study have been carefully controlled to isolate the common molecular mechanisms which may initiate the sequelae of events involved in nutritional programming of embryonic development. We propose that despite differences in the individual genes and proteins affected in each strain and with each diet, the general response to nutrient deficiency in utero is perturbation of the cell cycle, at the level of interaction with the cytoskeleton and the mitotic checkpoints, thereby diminishing control over the integrity of DNA which is allowed to replicate. These findings offer novel insight into the primary causes and mechanisms leading to the pathologies which have been identified by previous programming studies.
Poor iron status is a global health issue, affecting two thirds of the world population to some degree. It is a particular problem among pregnant women, in both developed and developing countries. Feeding pregnant rats a diet deficient in iron is associated with both hypertension and reduced nephron endowment in adult male offspring. However, the mechanistic pathway leading from iron deficiency to fetal kidney development remains elusive. This study aimed to establish the underlying processes associated with iron deficiency by assessing gene and protein expression changes in the rat embryo, focussing on the responses occurring at the time of the nutritional insult. Analysis of microarray data showed that iron deficiency in utero resulted in the significant up-regulation of 979 genes and down-regulation of 1545 genes in male rat embryos (d13). Affected processes associated with these genes included the initiation of mitosis, BAD-mediated apoptosis, the assembly of RNA polymerase II preinitiation complexes and WNT signalling. Proteomic analyses highlighted 7 proteins demonstrating significant up-regulation with iron deficiency and the down-regulation of 11 proteins. The main functions of these key proteins included cell proliferation, protein transport and folding, cytoskeletal remodelling and the proteasome complex. In line with our recent work, which identified the perturbation of the proteasome complex as a generalised response to in utero malnutrition, we propose that iron deficiency alone leads to a more specific failure in correct protein folding and transport. Such an imbalance in this delicate quality-control system can lead to cellular dysfunction and apoptosis.