1. World-wide epidemiological and experimental animal studies demonstrate that adversity in fetal life, resulting in intrauterine growth restriction, programmes the offspring for a greater susceptibility to ischaemic heart disease and heart failure in adult life. 2. After cardiogenesis, cardiomyocyte endowment is determined by a range of hormones and signalling pathways that regulate cardiomyocyte proliferation, apoptosis and the timing of multinucleation/terminal differentiation. 3. The small fetus may have reduced cardiomyocyte endowment owing to the impact of a suboptimal intrauterine environment on the signalling pathways that regulate cardiomyocyte proliferation, apoptosis and the timing of terminal differentiation.