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J Physiol. 2019 May 21. doi: 10.1113/JP277698. [Epub ahead of print]

Exercise prevents the adverse effects of maternal obesity on placental vascularization and fetal growth.

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Nutrigenomics and Growth Biology Laboratory, Department of Animal Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA.
Department of Movement Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA.
School of Food Science, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA.



Maternal exercise improves the metabolic health of maternal mice challenged with a high-fat diet. Exercise intervention of obese mothers prevents fetal overgrowth. Exercise intervention reverses impaired placental vascularization in obese mice. Maternal exercise activates placental AMP-activated protein kinase, which was inhibited as a result of maternal obesity.


More than one-third of pregnant women in the USA are obese and maternal obesity (MO) negatively affects fetal development, which predisposes offspring to metabolic diseases. The placenta mediates nutrient delivery to fetuses and its function is impaired as a result of MO. Exercise ameliorates metabolic dysfunction resulting from obesity, although its effect on placental function of obese mothers has not been explored. In the present study, C57BL/6J female mice were randomly assigned into two groups fed either a control or a high-fat diet (HFD) and then the mice on each diet were further divided into two subgroups with/without exercise. In HFD-induced obese mice, daily treadmill exercise during pregnancy reduced body weight gain, lowered serum glucose and lipid concentration, and improved insulin sensitivity of maternal mice. Importantly, maternal exercise prevented fetal overgrowth (macrosomia) induced by MO. To further examine the preventive effects of exercise on fetal overgrowth, placental vascularization and nutrient transporters were analysed. Vascular density and the expression of vasculogenic factors were reduced as a result of MO but were recovered by maternal exercise. On the other hand, the contents of nutrient transporters were not substantially altered by MO or exercise, suggesting that the protective effects of exercise in MO-induced fetal overgrowth were primarily a result of the alteration of placental vascularization and improved maternal metabolism. Furthermore, exercise enhanced downstream insulin signalling and activated AMP-activated protein kinase in HFD placenta. In sum, maternal exercise prevented fetal overgrowth induced by MO, which was associated with improved maternal metabolism and placental vascularization in obese mothers with exercise.


Maternal exercise; insulin resistance; maternal-fetal exchange; nutrient transport


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