Epigenetics of Undernutrition

  • Omar Ramos-Lopez
  • Jose Ignacio Riezu-Boj
  • Fermin I. MilagroEmail author
  • J. Alfredo Martinez
Reference work entry


The term undernutrition commonly refers to underfeeding and poor nutritional status. This condition is primarily caused by an inadequate intake of dietary energy or some specific nutrients, which accompany starvation or famine, voluntary reduction of food intake, gastrointestinal disorders, parasitic infestations, and severe pathologies that result in enhanced tissue catabolism. Of special importance is undernutrition during gestation (unbalanced maternal diet or intrauterine growth retardation) and lactation, as it compromises in- utero development and impairs infant growth and neurocognitive functions. Moreover, undernutrition is related to immunodeficiency, accelerated aging, and has potential deleterious consequences for adult health, including neurological disorders, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Cumulative evidence has demonstrated that diverse environmental factors, including undernutrition, can modify epigenetic marks (particularly DNA methylation, covalent histone modifications, and noncoding RNAs) throughout life, affecting gene expression and cell function, with long-term effects on health in adult life. Of particular interest is the impact of undernutrition on the epigenome driven by the lack of dietary methyl donors (choline, betaine, folate, and vitamins B2, B6, and B12) and other micronutrients, low-protein diets, calorie restriction, and famine exposure. This knowledge is contributing to a better understanding of the role of dietary deficiencies in the development of several adverse conditions through epigenetic mechanisms. Moreover, these scientific insights are leading to design novel dietary interventions targeting the epigenome.


Famine Starvation Methyl donors Micronutrients Protein Calories Genetics DNA methylation Histone modifications miRNA Chromatin remodeling Perinatal nutrition Aging Chronic diseases 

List of Abbreviations


Amino acid response


ATP-binding cassette subfamily A member 1


Anorexia nervosa


Angiopoietin 2


Asparagine synthetase


Activating transcription factor 3


Activating transcription factor 4


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor


Transcriptional factor BOLA


CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein beta


Cadherin-related 23


Cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 3




Hepatic cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase


Developmental Origins of Health and Disease


Exonuclease 3′-5′ domain containing 3


Fatty acid synthase


Glucose-6-phosphatase catalytic subunit


GATA-binding protein 4


Glucose transporter 4


GNAS complex locus


Glutamate ionotropic receptor AMPA-type subunit 1


Hydroxysteroid 11-beta dehydrogenase 1


Hydroxysteroid 11-beta dehydrogenase 2


5-hydroxytryptamine receptor 2A


Intercellular adhesion molecule 1


Interferon gamma


Insulin-like growth factor 1


Insulin-like growth factor 2






INS-IGF2 read-through


Insulin receptor


Intellectual coefficient


Intrauterine growth retardation


Kruppel-like factor 13


Low-density lipoprotein receptor




Long interspersed nuclear elements


Long- noncoding RNAs


Liver X receptor alpha


Mitogen-activated protein kinase


Moderate calorie restriction


Metastable epialleles


Maternally expressed 3 (nonprotein coding)


microRNA 200b




Neuropilin and tolloid-like 1


Nuclear receptor subfamily 1 group H member 3 gene


Neural tube defects


p21 (RAC1)-activated kinase 3


Paired box 8


Phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase 1


Prenatal malnutrition-associated differentially methylated regions


PPAR-γ coactivator-1α


Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma


Protease, serine 12


Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids


Raftlin, lipid raft linker 1




Severe caloric restriction


Small interfering RNA


SMAD family member 7


Sterol regulatory element-binding transcription factor 1


Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3


Synaptic Ras GTPase-activating protein 1


Transcription factor AP-2 alpha


Toll-like receptor 2


Hypermethylated tenascin XB gene


Vascular endothelial growth factor C


von Hippel-Lindau


Vasoactive intestinal peptide receptor 2


Vault RNA 2-1


ZFP57 zinc finger protein


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Omar Ramos-Lopez
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jose Ignacio Riezu-Boj
    • 1
  • Fermin I. Milagro
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Alfredo Martinez
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Physiology, and Centre for Nutrition ResearchUniversity of NavarraPamplonaSpain
  2. 2.Department of Molecular Biology in MedicineCivil Hospital of Guadalajara “Fray Antonio Alcalde”GuadalajaraMexico
  3. 3.Department of Nutrition and DieteticsKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.Madrid Institute of Advanced Studies (IMDEA Food)MadridSpain

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