Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Riverside

UC Riverside Previously Published Works bannerUC Riverside

Maternal exposure to Western diet affects adult body composition and voluntary wheel running in a genotype-specific manner in mice


Some human diseases, including obesity, Type II diabetes, and numerous cancers, are thought to be influenced by environments experienced in early life, including in utero. Maternal diet during the perinatal period may be especially important for adult offspring energy balance, potentially affecting both body composition and physical activity. This effect may be mediated by the genetic background of individuals, including, for example, potential "protective" mechanisms for individuals with inherently high levels of physical activity or high basal metabolic rates. To examine some of the genetic and environmental factors that influence adult activity levels, we used an ongoing selection experiment with 4 replicate lines of mice bred for high voluntary wheel running (HR) and 4 replicate, non-selected control lines (C). Dams (half HR and half C) were fed a "Western" diet (WD, high in fat and sucrose) or a standard diet (SD) from 2weeks prior to mating until their pups could feed on solid food (14days of age). We analyzed dam and litter characteristics from birth to weaning, and offspring mass and physical activity into adulthood. One male offspring from each litter received additional metabolic and behavioral tests. Maternal WD caused pups to eat solid food significantly earlier for C litters, but not for HR litters (interaction of maternal environment and genotype). With dam mass as a covariate, mean pup mass was increased by maternal WD but litter size was unaffected. HR dams had larger litters and tended to have smaller pups than C dams. Home-cage activity of juvenile focal males was increased by maternal WD. Juvenile lean mass, fat mass, and fat percent were also increased by maternal WD, but food consumption (with body mass as a covariate) was unaffected (measured only for focal males). Behavior in an elevated plus maze, often used to indicate anxiety, was unaffected by maternal WD. Maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max) was also unaffected by maternal WD, but HR had higher VO2max than C mice. Adult lean, fat, and total body masses were significantly increased by maternal WD, with greater increase for fat than for lean mass. Overall, no aspect of adult wheel running (total distance, duration, average running speed, maximum speed) or home-cage activity was statistically affected by maternal WD. However, analysis of the 8 individual lines revealed that maternal WD significantly increased wheel running in one of the 4 HR lines. On average, all groups lost fat mass after 6days of voluntary wheel running, but the absolute amount lost was greater for mice with maternal WD resulting in no effect of maternal WD on absolute or % body fat after wheel access. All groups gained lean and total body mass during wheel access, regardless of maternal WD or linetype. Measured after wheel access, circulating leptin, adiponectin, and corticosterone concentrations were unaffected by maternal WD and did not differ between HR and C mice. With body mass as a covariate, heart ventricle mass was increased by maternal WD in both HR and C mice, but fat pads, liver, spleen, and brain masses were unaffected. As found previously, HR mice had larger brains than C mice. Body mass of grand-offspring was unaffected by grand-maternal WD, but grand-offspring wheel running was significantly increased for one HR line and decreased for another HR line by grand-maternal WD. In summary, maternal Western diet had long-lasting and general effects on offspring adult morphology, but effects on adult behavior were limited and contingent on sex and genetic background.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View