Male mice that are undernourished while in the womb sire offspring with an increased risk of metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

Josep Jiménez-Chillarón at the Sant Joan de Deu Hospital in Barcelona, Spain, and his colleagues underfed pregnant mice and found that male offspring had a chemical modification on the Lxra gene, which regulates fat metabolism in the liver.

This 'epigenetic' change was transmitted through the offspring's sperm to the next generation. It was also specific to certain types of tissue, such as the liver and skeletal muscle. Both generations showed reduced expression of genes that synthesize lipids in the liver. This makes them prone to developing glucose intolerance, which can lead to diabetes.

The results suggest that the epigenetic effects of maternal malnutrition affect both the offspring and the next generation.

Cell Metab. (2014)