Feeding high-fat food to pregnant mice can affect their pups' brain development in ways that may cause them to be more vulnerable to obesity and to engage in addictive-like behaviors in adulthood, a new study has found.
The research was presented at Neuroscience 2009, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
"We discovered that pups born to mothers fed a high-fat diet during pregnancy and lactation had significant changes in their brain chemistry, with dramatic differences in dopamine- and opioid-related molecules," said lead author Teresa Reyes, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania.
These changes may partially explain the differences in behavior observed in these pups compared with ones from normal pregnancies, Reyes added. The pups born to mothers fed a high-fat diet showed a greater preference for a sugar solution and a greater physical response to cocaine than did pups born to mothers fed a standard diet.
The study's findings may have implications for humans. Almost two-thirds of Americans are overweight and one in three is obese, according to government health surveys. Women who are obese currently account for between 20 and 35 percent of all pregnancies in the United States. "The potential long-term effects of maternal obesity on the brains and behavior of offspring are just beginning to be understood," Reyes said.
Research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
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