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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 25;6(2):e17261. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017261.

Maternal high fat diet is associated with decreased plasma n-3 fatty acids and fetal hepatic apoptosis in nonhuman primates.

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Neuroscience Graduate Program, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon, United States of America.


To begin to understand the contributions of maternal obesity and over-nutrition to human development and the early origins of obesity, we utilized a non-human primate model to investigate the effects of maternal high-fat feeding and obesity on breast milk, maternal and fetal plasma fatty acid composition and fetal hepatic development. While the high-fat diet (HFD) contained equivalent levels of n-3 fatty acids (FA's) and higher levels of n-6 FA's than the control diet (CTR), we found significant decreases in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and total n-3 FA's in HFD maternal and fetal plasma. Furthermore, the HFD fetal plasma n-6:n-3 ratio was elevated and was significantly correlated to the maternal plasma n-6:n-3 ratio and maternal hyperinsulinemia. Hepatic apoptosis was also increased in the HFD fetal liver. Switching HFD females to a CTR diet during a subsequent pregnancy normalized fetal DHA, n-3 FA's and fetal hepatic apoptosis to CTR levels. Breast milk from HFD dams contained lower levels of eicosopentanoic acid (EPA) and DHA and lower levels of total protein than CTR breast milk. This study links chronic maternal consumption of a HFD with fetal hepatic apoptosis and suggests that a potentially pathological maternal fatty acid milieu is replicated in the developing fetal circulation in the nonhuman primate.

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