An Indian-origin researcher at the University at Buffalo has found that the brains of obese mothers' babies can get programmed to induce obesity in adulthood, while they are still in womb.
Biochemist Mulchand Patel's findings are based on a study of obese rats.
His study has shown for the first time that the metabolic programming occurs in the foetal hypothalamus, the area of the brain responsible for maintaining body weight throughout life.
The researcher said in his study report that foetuses of obese mother rats were found to have elevated levels of the hormones insulin and leptin, 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. Now we know it occurs in utero and specifically in the hypothalamus," said Patel, UB Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and senior author on the study.
"While these studies were done with rats, there is good reason to think the mechanism would be similar in humans. 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," he said.
Unlike many models investigating the role of maternal obesity on their offspring, the mother rats involved in the present study consumed normal laboratory chow during pregnancy, the researcher revealed.
"Our findings that malprogramming effects induced during fetal development in the altered intrauterine environment in obese mother rats predispose the offspring for adult-onset obesity underscore the importance of women maintaining optimal conditions during their pregnancies," said Patel.
An article on his research has been published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism.