SAN FRANCISCO (June 16, 2013)Male mice who were fed a high-fat diet and became obese were more likely to father offspring who also had higher levels of body fat, a new Ohio University study finds.
The effect was observed primarily in male offspring, despite their consumption of a low-fat diet, scientists reported today at the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society in San Francisco, Calif.
"We've identified a number of traits that may affect metabolism and behavior of offspring dependent on the pre-conception diet of the father," said Felicia Nowak, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in Ohio University's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine who is lead author on the study.
The researchers point to epigeneticsthe way genes are expressed, as opposed to mutations in DNA that are "hard-wired into the genes"as a possible cause of these inherited traits. Because gene expression is impacted by environmental and lifestyle factors, this finding suggests that individuals with obese fathers may be able to proactively address health concerns.
The effect of parents' diet and weight on children has been well-established in humans, Nowak explained, but scientists have been studying the issue in mice to learn more about the biological mechanisms behind the phenomenon. The Ohio University team studied the impact of the high-fat diet only with male mice parents, as most of the previous research had focused on female mice parents.
To conduct the study, the researchers fed male mice a high-fat diet for 13 weeks before mating. (The female mates were fed a matched low-fat diet.) Male and female offspring were fed a standard low-fat diet and studied at 20 days, six weeks and at six and 12 months.
Compared with offspring from control mice (who were fed the low-fat diet), the male offspring of paternal mice with diet-induced obesity had higher body weight at six weeks of age. They also were more obese at the six- and 12-month study markers.
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