The preimplantation mammalian embryo from different species appears sensitive to the environment in which it develops, either in vitro or in vivo, for example, in response to culture conditions or maternal diet. This sensitivity may lead to long-term alterations in the characteristics of fetal and/or postnatal growth and phenotype, which have implications for clinical health and biotechnological applications. We review the breadth of environmental influences that may affect early embryos and their responses to such conditions along epigenetic, metabolic, cellular, and physiological directions. In addition, we evaluate how embryo environmental responses may influence developmental potential and phenotype during later gestation. We conclude that a complex of different mechanisms may operate to associate early embryo environment with future health.
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