Excess Calories During Development Alters the Brain

Rutgers researchers traced this link from mother to child in mice with an experiment that began by letting some mice get obese on unlimited high-fat food during pregnancy and breastfeeding while keeping others slim on limitless healthy food. They found that mice born to obese mothers stay slim in adulthood on unlimited healthy food but overeat more than mice born to lean mothers when given access to unhealthy food.

“People born to overweight or obese mothers tend to be heavier in adulthood than people born to leaner mothers, and experiments like this suggest that the explanation goes beyond environmental factors such as learning unhealthy eating habits in childhood,” said Mark Rossi, senior author of the study. “Overnutrition during pregnancy and nursing appears to rewire the brains of developing children and, possibly, future generations.”

In the experiment, researchers gave the high-fat food to three sister mice and the healthy chow to another three of their sisters. Once breastfeeding was complete, the researchers turned their attention to the nearly 50 pups — who predictably started at heavier or lighter weights, depending on their mom’s diet.

Researchers offered them constant access to the high-fat diet they found all the mice overate, but the offspring of overweight mothers overate significantly more than the others.

Looking forward, the study’s finding about disrupted brain circuits in the two groups of mice may help inform the creation of drugs that would block the excess desire to consume unhealthy foods.

“There’s still more work to do because we don’t yet fully understand how these changes are happening, even in mice,” Rossi said. “But each experiment tells us a little more, and each little bit we learn about the processes that drive overeating may uncover a strategy for potential therapies.”


Kuldeep Shrivastava, Thaarini Swaminathan, Alessandro Barlotta, Vikshar Athreya, Hassan Choudhry, Mark A. Rossi. Maternal overnutrition is associated with altered synaptic input to lateral hypothalamic area. Molecular Metabolism, 2023; 71: 101702 DOI: 10.1016/j.molmet.2023.101702

Rutgers University. “Excess calories during development alters the brain and spurs adult overeating.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 March 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/03/230320143749.htm>.

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