A Maternal High-Fat, High-Sucrose Diet Has Sex-Specific Effects on Fetal Glucocorticoids with Little Consequence for Offspring Metabolism and Voluntary Locomotor Activity in Mice

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Chin EH, Schmidt KL, Martel KM, Wong CK, Hamden JE, Gibson WT, et al. (2017) A maternal high-fat, high-sucrose diet has sex-specific effects on fetal glucocorticoids with little consequence for offspring metabolism and voluntary locomotor activity in mice. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0174030. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174030.

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Maternal overnutrition and obesity during pregnancy can have long-term effects on offspring physiology and behaviour. These developmental programming effects may be mediated by fetal exposure to glucocorticoids, which is regulated in part by placental 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11β-HSD) type 1 and 2. We tested whether a maternal high-fat, high-sucrose diet would alter expression of placental 11β-HSD1 and 2, thereby increasing fetal exposure to maternal glucocorticoids, with downstream effects on offspring physiology and behaviour. C57BL/6J mice were fed a high-fat, high-sucrose (HFHS) diet or a nutrient-matched low-fat, no-sucrose control diet prior to and during pregnancy and lactation. At day 17 of gestation, HFHS dams had ~20% lower circulating corticosterone levels than controls. Furthermore, there was a significant interaction between maternal diet and fetal sex for circulating corticosterone levels in the fetuses, whereby HFHS males tended to have higher corticosterone than control males, with no effect in female fetuses. However, placental 11β-HSD1 or 11β-HSD2 expression did not differ between diets or show an interaction between diet and sex. To assess potential long-term consequences of this sex-specific effect on fetal corticosterone, we studied locomotor activity and metabolic traits in adult offspring. Despite a sex-specific effect of maternal diet on fetal glucocorticoids, there was little evidence of sex-specific effects on offspring physiology or behaviour, although HFHS offspring of both sexes had higher circulating corticosterone at 9 weeks of age. Our results suggest the existence of as yet unknown mechanisms that mitigate the effects of altered glucocorticoid exposure early in development, making offspring resilient to the potentially negative effects of a HFHS maternal diet.

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Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)