How can a relation between embryo environment and foetal growth be explained? From animal studies it is becoming clear that environmental changes in the foetal period, when cells are differentiating into different organs, can lead to changes in epigenetic regulation that permanently adjust the physiology of these organs and tissues. This phenomenon is termed foetal programming. Altered embryonic environment leads to similar effects. Whether ‘embryonic programming’ also exists in human and how this would exert its effects is not known yet. Since the placenta is the first organ to develop, we hypothesize that changes in the embryonic environment (e.g. culture medium) lead to alterations in epigenetic regulation and therewith in the structure and/or function of this vital organ. This, in its turn, might affect foetal growth. A role for the placenta is supported by the fact that a difference in maternal free- βhCG level at the first trimester screening was recorded between the two culture medium groups in our first culture medium trial. Furthermore, in a first pilot study, analysing placental tissue from pregnancies that were conceived after IVF or spontaneously, significant differences were found in DNA methylation and expression of some imprinted genes. Imprinted genes are known for their role in placental development and function.
The effect of culture medium on the epigenetic regulation in placental tissue is now under investigation (information only available in Dutch).