Several studies have shown that obesity during pregnancy is associated with metabolic changes in offspring and may increase the probability of offspring suffering from neurological disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Although some studies have suggested that there are gender differences in the appearance of these disorders, the exact mechanisms of influence have not been elucidated.
A recent study published in Nature Metabolism explores the mechanisms behind the behavioral changes in offspring of different genders.
Researchers provided pregnant mice with a high-fat diet and found that male offspring of mice on the high-fat diet had lower levels of 5-hydroxytryptamine (also known as serotonin, an important neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of many physiological functions) in their brains.
This change persists into adulthood and may lead to behavioral changes in the mice, such as a reduced preference for sugar and water.
This loss of interest in feeding suggests a lack of rewarding behavior and a tendency to depression.
Also, the researchers analyzed human fetal brain and placental tissue and found that high maternal lipids were associated with low levels of 5-hydroxytryptamine in human male fetuses.
The researchers suggest that the effects of a high-fat diet can cross the placental barrier via signal transduction, causing excessive depletion of 5-hydroxytryptamine in the small glial cells of the male fetal brain, thereby increasing the susceptibility of male offspring to neurological disorders.
In the future, the investigators hope to further understand the full impact of this mechanism and the influence of the maternal environment on the emergence of neurological disorders.