Developmental plasticity and human disease: research directions


  • P. D. Gluckman,

    1. From the Centre for Human Evolution, Adaptation and Disease, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
    2. National Research Centre for Growth and Development, Auckland, New Zealand
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  • M. A. Hanson

    1. Centre for Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
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Prof. Peter D. Gluckman FRS, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.
(fax: +44 9 373 7497; e-mail:


The conceptual basis of the ‘developmental origins’ paradigm has converged on the role of developmental plasticity responding to signals from the early environment, with heightened risk of disease if the induced phenotype does not match the later environment. Nevertheless, numerous questions remain, including the current burden of disease that can be attributed to early environmental factors; the pathways, mechanisms and windows of plasticity; the identification of early markers of environmentally induced change; and the feasibility, costs and benefits of intervention. A focused agenda of research is needed to convince policy makers of the importance of developmental factors in human disease.