Early sex-dependent differences in response to environmental stress
Developmental plasticity enables the appearance of long-term effects in offspring caused by exposure to environmental stressors during embryonic and foetal life. These long-term effects can be traced to pre- and post-implantation development, and in both cases, the effects are usually sex specific. During preimplantation development, male and female embryos exhibit an extensive transcriptional dimorphism mainly driven by incomplete X chromosome inactivation. These early developmental stages are crucial for the establishment of epigenetic marks that will be conserved throughout development, making it a particularly susceptible period for the appearance of long-term epigenetic-based phenotypes. Later in development, gonadal formation generates hormonal differences between the sexes, and male and female placentae exhibit different responses to environmental stressors. The maternal environment, including hormones and environmental insults during pregnancy, contributes to sex-specific placental development that controls genetic and epigenetic programming during foetal development, regulating sex-specific differences, including sex-specific epigenetic responses to environmental hazards, leading to long-term effects. This review summarizes several human and animal studies examining sex-specific responses to environmental stressors during both the periconception period (caused by differences in sex chromosome dosage) and placental development (caused by both sex chromosomes and hormones). The identification of relevant sex-dependent trajectories caused by sex chromosomes and/or sex hormones is essential to define diagnostic markers and prevention/intervention protocols.
Source: The journal of Reproductive Science