A pregnant mother's diet may be able to interact with the genes her unborn child inherits and influence the type or severity of birth defect according to research funded by the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The study, published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics, suggests that mothers who eat a high fat diet before and through pregnancy could be inadvertently putting the health of their offspring at risk.
Congenital heart disease is the commonest form of a birth defect. It is already known that children born to mothers who have diabetes or are overweight have an increased risk of congenital heart disease and other birth defects. It is also known that certain genetic changes can result in congenital heart disease. However it is not known if environmental factors such as a mother's diet could interact with these genetic changes to affect the outcome.
To investigate this, a team of researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford studied the effect a high fat diet might have in mice on their offspring.
The researchers compared healthy mice against those lacking a gene called Cited2. Cited2 deficiency results in heart defects in mice and in humans. It also sometimes results in an especially serious type of heart defect called atrial isomerism, where the left-right asymmetry of the heart is disturbed.
The mice were fed a diet high in fat before and through pregnancy, and the development of their offspring studied using magnetic resonance imaging. The results were then compared to mice from a control group fed with a balanced diet.
Amongst offspring mice that were deficient in Cited2, the risk of atrial isomerism more than doubled, and the risk of cleft palate increased more than seven fold when the mothers were fed a high fat diet. These changes did not happen in the genetically normal offspring of mothers fed a high fat diet, indicating that
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