It is estimated that 1 in 7 babies worldwide are born with low birth weight. In the majority of cases this is due to maternal malnutrition leading to intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). Unless severe, IUGR is not life-threatening but it can affect metabolic health during adulthood. Interesting work on IUGR in the 1960s showed that the brain often scales down much less than other developing organs. This change in body proportions reflects a survival strategy called brain sparing, whereby the process that generates neurons (neurogenesis) is highly tolerant of malnutrition. Nevertheless, sparing is not perfect and can be associated with long-term neurological consequences. Brain sparing is shared across evolution, from humans to Drosophila fruit flies, and significant progress has been made in pinpointing its underlying protective mechanisms. Key advances have shown how the metabolism of neural stem cells, the cells driving neurogenesis, is well adapted to the stresses of malnutrition and hypoxia. New instruments for imaging metabolism with single-cell resolution now promise a step change in our understanding of brain sparing during IUGR and how it might best be treated.
Alex Gould FRS is a Principal Group Leader at The Francis Crick Institute in London. His research aims to understand how early-life environmental stresses affect the metabolism and physiology of the developing brain.
Archibald Vivian Hill (1886-1977) FRS was an English physiologist, one of the founders of the diverse disciplines of biophysics and operations research. He shared the 1922 Nobel Prize in Phusiology or Medicine for his elucidation of the production of heat and mechanical work in muscles. Hill is regarded, along with Hermann Helmholz, as one of the founders of biophysics.The first AV Hill Lecture was delivered in 2013 by Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University.
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