12 January - 20 June 2016

Mouse study finds mother’s high fat diet may alter metabolism in offspring

29 Jan 14

A mouse study published in Cell by researchers from Yale School of Medicine and the University of Cologne has reported that a mother’s diet can alter metabolism in offspring.  Horvath et al report that 15-40% of pregnancies are complicated by maternal obesity and 3-10% by maternal diabetes. Maternal obesity and maternal diabetes have been reported by previous studies to predispose the offspring to the development of metabolic disorders however the cellular and molecular mechanisms are unknown.  Previous researchers have indicated that an abnormal hormonal milieu during development triggers persistent changes in the hypothalamic neurocircuits which regulate energy and glucose metabolism.   Using a mouse model, the scientists fed virgin mice either a control diet or a high fat diet (HFD) 8 weeks prior to gestation. During this time the HFD fed mice increased in body weight, had elevated blood glucose concentrations, and signs of insulin resistance.  After birth, during the period of lactation, half of mothers who were fed the control diet were given a HFD and half of the HFD mothers were fed a control diet.  Independent of the diet fed during pregnancy, the mothers fed the high fat during lactation were found to have slightly raised serum insulin concentrations and the offspring at 3 week of age were found to have increased serum insulin levels.  After weaning all offspring were fed a normal control diet until 8 week of age, where they were then split into two groups and fed either a normal control diet or HFD for the following 12 weeks. Horvath et al. found that the offspring of mothers who consumed a high fat diet during lactation had abnormal neuronal circuits in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that regulates metabolism, as well as altered insulin signalling in the brain’s circuits.  The offspring remained overweight and had abnormalities in glucose metabolism throughout life.  The scientists note that because neural circuits in the hypothalamus continue to develop after birth in mice, but are fully developed before birth in humans, their findings suggest that the third trimester of pregnancy in humans is the most critical period.  This is the time when the mother’s diet will most likely have long-lasting effects on her offspring’s health.

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