Epigenetics refers to changes in gene function, not resulting from the primary DNA sequence, influenced by the environment. It provides a link between the molecular regulation of the genome and the environmental signals exposed during the life of individuals (including lifestyle, social behavior, development, and nutrition). Notably, early development (intrauterine or postnatal) is highly influenced by the adverse socioeconomic status that leads to malnutrition or obesity; these conditions induce changes over the fetal epigenetic programming and can be transferred by transgenerational inheritance, inducing alterations of the transcription of genes related to several metabolic and neurological processes. Moreover, obesity during pregnancy, and excessive gestational weight gain are associated with an increased risk of fatal pregnancy complications, and adverse cardio-metabolic, respiratory and cognitive-related outcomes of the future child. However, most of our knowledge in this field comes from experimental animal models, that partially resemble the nutritional effects of humans. In this context, nutritional effects implicated in historical famines represent valuable information about the transgenerational effects of undernutrition and stress. In the present review, we attempt to describe the most outstanding results from the most studied famines about the impact of malnutrition on the epigenome.
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