Epigenetic Programming of Water Drinking and Sodium Intake

  • Andre Souza Mecawi
  • Michael Paul Greenwood
  • Juan ArguellesEmail author
Reference work entry


Water is the main element of the human body, representing about 70% of our body mass. This water is distributed inside (intracellular fluid) and outside (extracellular fluid) all body cells. In the extracellular fluid, the main osmotically active solute is sodium. Thus, the volume and osmolality of the extracellular and, consecutively, intracellular fluid is finely controlled by the balance of water and sodium in the human body. There are several neuroendocrine systems that maintain this balance by controlling the amount of water and sodium that we intake and excrete via the kidneys. In order to ensure that we intake the correct amount of water and sodium when we need these elements, the evolutionary process has selected two specific innate appetites for each one of these elements, called thirst and sodium appetite, respectively. Over the past 50 years, there have been several evidences demonstrating that these two sensations that lead us to drink water and intake sodium salts can be epigenetically programmed by perinatal events. Sodium and fluid losses due to exercise-induced dehydration, hemorrhage, vomit, or diuretic therapy during the perinatal period increase sodium appetite in adulthood. An excess of sodium intake during the perinatal period is related to a decrease of thirst sensation and water intake in the offspring when adult. Undernutrition during pregnancy or neonatal undernutrition is also related to an increase in sodium appetite in adulthood; however, the effects of undernutrition on water intake have not yet been fully clarified in the literature. There are several neuroendocrine systems that are responsible for the thirst and sodium appetite control, such as: the renin-angiotensin, atrial natriuretic peptide, and neurohypophyseal systems. Changes in the pattern of methylation of these three neuroendocrine systems were recently identified in several experimental and clinical models, suggesting that these systems may be the key for the epigenetic control of thirst and sodium appetite.


Thirst Sodium appetite Ontogenesis Vasopressin Angiotensin II Atrial natriuretic peptide Pregnancy Lactation Methylation Brain Kidneys 

List of Abbreviations


Antidiuretic hormone


Angiotensin II


Atrial natriuretic peptide


Angiotensin II type one receptor


Arginine vasopressin


Epithelial sodium channel


Paraventricular nucleus


Renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system


Supraoptic nucleus


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andre Souza Mecawi
    • 1
  • Michael Paul Greenwood
    • 2
  • Juan Arguelles
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Physiological Sciences, Institute of Medical and Biological SciencesFederal Rural University of Rio de JaneiroSeropedicaBrazil
  2. 2.School of Clinical SciencesUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  3. 3.Departamento de Biología Funcional, Área de Fisiología, Facultad de Medicina y Ciencias de la SaludUniversidad de Oviedo, EspañaOviedoSpain

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