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Neuroscience. 2009 Sep 15;162(4):924-32. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.05.029. Epub 2009 May 22.

Early life exposure to a high fat diet promotes long-term changes in dietary preferences and central reward signaling.

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  • 1Department of Animal Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, 201E Vet, 6046, University of Pennsylvania, 3800 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6046, USA.


Overweight and obesity in the United States continues to grow at epidemic rates in large part due to the overconsumption of calorically-dense palatable foods. Identification of factors influencing long-term macronutrient preferences may elucidate points of prevention and behavioral modification. In our current study, we examined the adult macronutrient preferences of mice acutely exposed to a high fat diet during the third postnatal week. We hypothesized that the consumption of a high fat diet during early life would alter the programming of central pathways important in adult dietary preferences. As adults, the early-exposed mice displayed a significant preference for a diet high in fat compared to controls. This effect was not due to diet familiarity as mice exposed to a novel high carbohydrate diet during this same early period failed to show differences in macronutrient preferences as adults. The increased intake of high fat diet in early exposed mice was specific to dietary preferences as no changes were detected for total caloric intake or caloric efficiency. Mechanistically, mice exposed to a high fat diet during early life exhibited significant alterations in biochemical markers of dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens, including changes in levels of phospho-dopamine and cyclic AMP-regulated phosphoprotein, molecular weight 32 kDa (DARPP-32) threonine-75, DeltaFosB, and cyclin-dependent kinase 5. These results support our hypothesis that even brief early life exposure to calorically-dense palatable diets alters long-term programming of central mechanisms important in dietary preferences and reward. These changes may underlie the passive overconsumption of high fat foods contributing to the increasing body mass in the western world.

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