BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that fetuses of obese mother rats were programmed in utero to develop obesity in adulthood.
Moreover, they have shown for the first time that the metabolic programming occurs in the fetal hypothalamus, the area of the brain responsible for maintaining the body's energy homeostasis (body weight) throughout life.
Levels of the hormones insulin and leptin also were elevated in fetuses of these obese mother rats, abnormalities that have been correlated with increased appetite and insulin resistance (a prelude to diabetes), as well as obesity and hypertension.
"Our earlier studies looked at newborn rats of the obese mothers in the post-weaning period, so we didn't know how early this programming occurred," said Mulchand Patel, Ph.D., UB Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and senior author on the study. "Now we know it occurs in utero and specifically in the hypothalamus.
"While these studies were done with rats, there is good reason to think the mechanism would be similar in humans," he said. " The fact that more than one-third of women of child-bearing age in the United States are expected to be overweight or obese during pregnancy, based on a 2003 study, does not portend well for good health of their offspring."
The new findings were published in the October 2008 issue of the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism. Malathi Srinivasan, Ph.D., research scientist in the UB Department of Biochemistry, is first author.
Metabolic programming, sometimes called dietary patterning, isn't a new phenomenon, Patel noted. "Epidemiologic studies of malnourished mothers showed that their babies often were underweight and at increased risk for several chronic diseases as adults. Animal studies on maternal protein malnourishment or caloric restriction have shown that pre- and immediate postnatal nutritional modifications
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