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Neuroscience. 2008 May 2;153(2):373-82. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.02.023. Epub 2008 Mar 4.

Post weaning high fat feeding affects rats' behavior and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis at the onset of puberty in a sexually dimorphic manner.

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Laboratory of Histology and Embryology, Medical School, University of Athens, M. Asias 75, Athens, Greece.


Feeding adult rats with high fat (HF) diets can alter their hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis responsiveness. In the present study, we examined the effect of a high fat diet, applied in rats from weaning to puberty, on their behavior and HPA axis status at puberty onset. Wistar rats of both sexes were fed postweaning with two diets containing either 24% fat (high fat, HF) or 4.3% fat (normal chow) by weight. HF enhanced puberty onset in female rats, without increasing body weight gain in either sex, compared with chow-fed animals. In the forced swim test, HF males exhibited a more active behavioral response on the first day, whereas HF females a more passive response during the second day of the test, as compared with their chow-fed counterparts. In the open field test, HF females showed increased sniffing but reduced rearing, compared with chow-fed females and were less explorative than HF males in the central arena. All animals could learn and recall a water maze task though HF males spent more time in the opposite quadrant than chow-fed males during memory test. The HPA axis status of these animals was investigated under basal conditions. Pubertal fat-fed males had lighter adrenals, while females heavier ones, compared with their counterparts. In addition, plasma corticosterone levels of female rats were increased and glucocorticoid receptor levels in their hypothalamus were reduced due to fat diet, while in males no such changes were detected. We conclude that HF feeding during the prepubertal period can affect behavior and the HPA axis of rats at puberty onset, well before the appearance of the obese state, in a sexually dimorphic manner. Fat diet impacted more the female HPA axis, suggesting that their system is more sensitive to fat-induced nutritional imbalance during adolescence. Present data suggest that the fat-induced nutritional imbalance in young females may lead to neuroendocrine dysfunction that in turn may trigger the appearance of stress-related disorders during adolescence.

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