Infants born prematurely at <37 weeks' gestation account for over 80% of infants weighing <2,500 g at birth-low birth weight (LBW) infants. This designation remains the surrogate marker for developmental origins of adult disease. Landmark studies spanning four decades have shown that individuals born with a LBW are more likely to develop cardiovascular and renal disease in later life, which is believed to be related to 'developmental programming' of such adult disease during vulnerable periods of growth in utero and in the early postnatal period. There has long been ambiguity regarding the distinction between infants with intrauterine growth restriction and preterm infants since both show a low nephron endowment that is associated with subsequent hypertension and chronic kidney disease. Knowledge is growing specific to the preterm infant and the developmental associations of being born preterm with the interruption of normal organogenesis relative to the vascular tree and kidney. Both systems develop by branching morphogenesis and interruptions lead to considerable deficits in their structure and function. These developmental aberrations can lead to endothelial dysfunction, hypertension, proteinuria and metabolic abnormalities that persist throughout life. This Review will examine the effect of preterm birth on the development of cardiovascular and kidney disease in later life and will also discuss potential early interventions to alter the progression of disease.
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