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A new study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, suggests that what happens in the womb could determine whether the offspring will develop obesity or other metabolic diseases later in life.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, part of a four-center study analyzing obesity as part of the American Heart Association’s Strategically Focused Research Network, are studying mechanisms and therapeutic targets in obesity.

The center at UAB consists of three groups analyzing the mechanisms of the transgenerational impact of the mother’s obesity and the effects on offspring.

The first group, led by W. Timothy Garvey, M.D., center director and professor with the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences, and Kirk Habegger, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, and fellow Rogerio Sertie, Ph.D., looked at how a mother’s diet during pregnancy — whether she ate too much or too little, affected her offspring’s body composition and metabolism.

They found that a protein-restricted diet during gestation produced smaller offspring with more muscle and less fat. On the other hand, when mothers were fed a high-fat diet during pregnancy, their offspring had a greater risk of obesity and consumed more food, despite having high levels of hormones that regulate hunger and metabolism.

The study also looked at how the in-utero environment affects the expression of certain genes involved in metabolism and fat distribution, by examining a chemical process called DNA methylation in the brains of the offspring. The researchers found that differences in DNA methylation at specific gene sites are associated with obesity and metabolic diseases in the offspring. These findings provide important insights into how early-life events can impact health later in life and could lead to new ways to prevent and treat these conditions.

Read More at the UAB News

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