U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Published in Birth Defects Research (Part A): Clinical and Molecular Teratology (2011) 91: 797-805; DOI: 10.1002/bdra.20824


Parental and environmental factors during the prenatal and postnatal periods permanently affect the physiology and metabolism of offspring, potentially increasing disease risk later in life. Underlying mechanisms are being elucidated, and effects on a number of organs and metabolic pathways are likely involved. In this review, we consider effects on the developing hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which may represent a common pathway for developmental programming. The focus is on prenatal and early postnatal development, during which the HPA axis may be programmed in a manner that affects health for a lifetime. Programming of the HPA axis involves, at least in part, epigenetic remodeling of chromatin, leading to alterations in the expression of genes in many organs and tissues involved in HPA activation and response, including the hippocampus and peripheral tissues. Examples of developmental epigenetic modifications affecting the HPA axis as well as target tissues are provided.