Editors' ChoiceObesity

Why Do You Like Fat and Sugar? Ask Your Mom!

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Science Translational Medicine  27 Oct 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 55, pp. 55ec166
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001825

It is not surprising that a diet high in fat and sugar can promote obesity; however, understanding why this occurs is more complex. This diet, referred to as palatable, is known to alter neurotransmitters in the reward center of the brain. In animals, a mother’s consumption of a palatable diet during pregnancy increases the likelihood that her offspring will prefer a similar high-fat, high-sugar diet. In humans, children’s preference for fat is influenced by their mother’s diet during pregnancy and the mother’s fat intake before, but not after, pregnancy. Because changes in the environment (for example, nutrition) promote changes in gene expression (such as DNA methylation), Vucetic et al. examined the regulation of DNA methylation as a possible explanation for the transgenerational effect of diet.

The authors targeted genes associated with two neurologic systems that regulate palatable food consumption: dopamine and opioids. They fed female mice a control (12.5% fat) or high-fat (60% fat) diet for 3 months, mated them, and maintained the high-fat diet through pregnancy, birth, and weaning. Offspring ate the control diet, but then were intermittently presented with the choice of a high-fat or a control diet and a 4% sucrose solution or water. Vucetic et al. observed that all of the offspring preferred the palatable diets (high fat and sucrose), but the offspring of the mothers who had consumed the high-fat diet did so to a significantly greater degree. The offspring of the high–fat–diet mothers exhibited increased dopamine reuptake transporter expression and decreased DNA methylation in all brain areas. In addition, the μ-opioid rececptor and pre-proenkephalin, which have both been associated with increased intake of palatable foods, were upregulated in the offspring of the high–fat–diet mothers.

This study suggests a link between a low-dopamine state and a predilection for reward-seeking dietary behavior and provides a first implication of the opioid system in high-fat diet intake during pregnancy and lactation. These results provide a foundation for future study of neurological mechanisms of obesity that transcend generations.

Z. Vucetic et al., Maternal high-fat diet alters methylation and gene expression of dopamine and opioid-related genes. Endocrinology 151, 4756–4764 (2010). [Abstract]

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