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Dev Psychobiol. 2019 Sep 28. doi: 10.1002/dev.21923. [Epub ahead of print]

Perinatal high-fat diet impairs pup retrieval and induces sex-specific changes in ultrasonic vocalization characteristics of rat pups.

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Department of Biological Sciences and Centre for Environmental Epigenetics and Development, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Cell and Systems Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Physiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.


Rodent pups emit ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) to solicit maternal behavior, promoting their survival. Conversely, maternal behaviors affect the expression of pup USVs. We previously demonstrated that a maternal diet high in saturated fat (HFD) alters maternal behavior and is associated with early maturation of pups and their stress physiology. Here, we assessed the developmental profiles of pup USVs using quantitative and qualitative measures on postnatal days (PND)7 and 13. Quantitative measures included call counts, duration, and frequency, while qualitative measures examined calls' sonographic structures. HFD offspring lacked the typical decrease in USV numbers with age observed among control offspring. They also had shorter calls at PND7 compared to control and HFD offspring at PND13. HFD female offspring showed a greater number of one-frequency-sweep calls, while male pups showed a greater number of two-frequency-sweep calls compared to control offspring. Concomitantly, HFD dams showed impaired pup retrieval on PND7. The data suggest that fewer USVs of shorter duration in HFD offspring may alter dam solicitation and thus impair maternal pup retrieval. This study highlights the impacts of perinatal HFD exposure on the dyadic reciprocal interaction between dam and pups, which may set the stage for long-lasting effects on offspring physiology and behavior.


development; maternal behavior; mother-pup interactions; perinatal high-fat diet; rodent; sonogram; ultrasonic vocalization


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