Researchers at the MRC (Medical Research Council) Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton in the UK, have demonstrated that the degree to which a gene related to vitamin D action is switched on or off, when measured at birth, predicts bone density of the child at four years of age. The results were published online on August 1, 2013 in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. In the study, 230 boys and girls were assessed at 4 years as part of the Southampton Women's Survey (SWS), a large ongoing mother-offspring cohort. The children visited the Osteoporosis Centre at Southampton General Hospital for measurement of their bone size and density using a DXA scanner. The researchers were able to measure the extent to which a particular gene, RXRA, is switched on or off by measuring epigenetic marks on the DNA sequence of the gene in cells taken from umbilical cord tissue which had been collected at birth. They found that the less marking (which usually means greater gene activity), at birth, the greater the bone density of the child at four years old. Furthermore, one of the epigenetic marks was related to the mother's blood vitamin D concentrations in late pregnancy. Dr. Nicholas Harvey, Senior Lecturer at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, who led this project said, "RXRA is essential for the action of vitamin D and several other hormones; taken together with the relationship we found between mothers' vitamin D levels and RXRA marking, this study provides further support for the potential importance of vitamin D in pregnancy.
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