Maternal high-fat diet programming of the neuroendocrine system and behavior

Elinor L. Sullivan, University of Portland
Kellie M. Riper
Rachel Lockard
Jeanette C. Valleau

Hormones and Behavior, 2015, Volume 76,153-161.

© 2015 Elsevier Inc.

Linked version is final published version.


Maternal obesity, metabolic state, and diet during gestation have profound effects on offspring development. The prevalence of neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders has risen rapidly in the last several decades in parallel with the rise in obesity rates. Evidence from epidemiological studies indicates that maternal obesity and metabolic complications increase the risk of offspring developing behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and schizophrenia. Animal models show that a maternal diet high in fat similarly disrupts behavioral programming of offspring, with animals showing social impairments, increased anxiety and depressive behaviors, reduced cognitive development, and hyperactivity. Maternal obesity, metabolic conditions, and high fat diet consumption increase maternal leptin, insulin, glucose, triglycerides, and inflammatory cytokines. This leads to increased risk of placental dysfunction, and altered fetal neuroendocrine development. Changes in brain development that likely contribute to the increased risk of behavioral and mental health disorders include increased inflammation in the brain, as well as alterations in the serotonergic system, dopaminergic system and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis.