Numerous epidemiological studies suggest an inverse relationship between low birth weight (LBW) and hypertension, an observation now supported by numerous animal studies. The mechanisms linking LBW and hypertension appear to be multifactorial and involve alterations in the normal regulatory systems and renal functions involved in the long-term control of arterial pressure. Recent studies using animal models of fetal programming suggest that programming during fetal life occurs in response to an adverse fetal environment and results in permanent adaptive responses that lead to structural and physiological alterations and the subsequent development of hypertension. This review summarizes the adaptive responses observed in the different models used to induce a suboptimal fetal environment and discusses insights into the mechanisms mediating the fetal programming of hypertension.
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