How early-life events "set the stage" for adult disease has emerged as a research focus. Historically, the epidemiology of disease risk factors has centered on adult life, with little scrutiny of early-life events. Here we review the concept that events in early life may contribute to late-life neurodegenerative disease development, with a focus on Parkinson disease (PD) and Alzheimer disease (AD). Suspect events in early life include infections, stress, poor nutrition, and environmental factors such as chemical and pesticide exposure. Adiposity appears to contribute to both PD and AD; and because early-life events contribute to the development of obesity, linkages may exist between early determinants of obesity and the subsequent development of these neurologic diseases. Many now suggest a life-course approach for determining the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors in any chronic disease. This requires determining when during the life course that a given exposure has its greatest effect and how exposures may accumulate over the life span. The data for PD and AD suggest that a number of insults occurring early in life may lead or contribute to these diseases. More definitive knowledge of the key risk factors involved will be needed to implement intervention and preventative strategies early in life to dampen or prevent any adverse late-life outcomes.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, WV 26505, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org