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Maternal obesity in pregnancy: Consequences for brain function in the offspring

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It is perhaps not surprising that an inhospitable intrauterine environment can result in neurodevelopmental disorders, given the enormous changes in brain development that occur during gestation. Here we discuss: (1) Obesity is a state of low-grade inflammation and is thus a candidate for having an unfavorable impact on brain function in the offspring. (2) Maternal obesity has recently been associated with offspring attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder. A recent study found differences in amniotic fluid mRNA for 20 genes in fetuses of obese versus lean women, and several of these genes impact on brain sculpting. (3) The balance between excitable and inhibitory neural function can be disturbed as a consequence of maternal obesity and can lead to hyperexcitability-linked cognitive decline later in life. (4) While most studies of brain development and function have focused on neurons, inflammation and oxidative stress have major effects on microglia and astrocytes, key cells in the sculpting of synapses, neural plasticity, and the formation of neural networks. (5) Animal models are, of necessity, widely used and the temporal trajectory of neurodevelopment to accommodate the requirements of the different species has recently been modeled. While detailed studies are essential for understanding mechanism, it is critical to test the outcomes of manipulating the system on behavior. In this regard considerable care is required to ensure that the most appropriate behavioral test and animal model are used. Thus, there is considerable scope for consolidating our understanding of the effects of maternal obesity on brain function in the offspring.




Coleman, H. A., & Parkington, H. C. (2016). Maternal obesity in pregnancy: Consequences for brain function in the offspring. In Neuromethods (Vol. 109, pp. 203–219). Humana Press Inc.

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