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Endocrinology. 2010 Apr;151(4):1451-61. doi: 10.1210/en.2009-1192. Epub 2010 Mar 5.

A maternal "junk food" diet in pregnancy and lactation promotes nonalcoholic Fatty liver disease in rat offspring.

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Department of Veterinary Basic Sciences, The Royal Veterinary College, Royal College Street, London NW1 0TU, United Kingdom.


With rising obesity rates, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is predicted to become the main cause of chronic liver disease in the next decades. Rising obesity prevalence is attributed to changes in dietary habits with increased consumption of palatable junk foods, but maternal malnutrition also contributes to obesity in progeny. This study examines whether a maternal junk food diet predisposes offspring to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The 144 rat offspring were fed either a balanced chow diet alone or with palatable junk foods rich in energy, fat, sugar, and/or salt during gestation, lactation, and/or after weaning up to the end of adolescence. Offspring fed junk food throughout the study exhibited exacerbated hepatic steatosis, hepatocyte ballooning, and oxidative stress response compared with offspring given free access to junk food after weaning only. These offspring also displayed sex differences in their hepatic molecular metabolic adaptation to diet-induced obesity with increased expression of genes associated with insulin sensitivity, de novo lipogenesis, lipid oxidation, and antiinflammatory properties in males, whereas the gene expression profile in females was indicative of hepatic insulin resistance. Hepatic inflammation and fibrosis were not detected indicating that offspring had not developed severe steatohepatitis by the end of adolescence. Hepatic steatosis and increased oxidative stress response also occurred in offspring born to junk food-fed mothers switched to a balanced chow diet from weaning, highlighting a degree of irreversibility. This study shows that a maternal junk food diet in pregnancy and lactation contributes to the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in offspring.

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