Does a mother’s diet affect her child’s risk of obesity? A recent study at Bar Ilan University’s Faculty of Life Sciences shows evidence of an epigenetic link. Published in the September 2014 issue of The FASEB Journal, the research used an animal model to show that altered expression of a gene called Pomc, a key factor in controlling food intake, directly affects feeding behavior in young.
According to a press release from the FASEB, the main author of the publication, Asaf Marco, Ph.D., made the following statement:
Parental obesity and diet can affect the children’s likelihood to overeat and develop obesity. Changes in epigenetic programming have been implicated as one of the mechanisms underlying the phenomenon. We observed a clear correspondence between a specific epigenetic mechanism and weight gain, potentially allowing for early detection and prevention of obesity.
Female rats were fed a high-fat diet, then analyzed for body weight, hormone level, mRNA, and DNA CpG methylation of the promoter of Pomc. Results showed the Pomc/leptin ratio to be lowered by ~38%, associated with hypermethylation of the Pomc promoter. Rats who were mated, although heavier when pregnant, showed a 2.5X decrease in body weight and loss of the Pomc promoter hypermethylation during lactation, suggesting a possible mechanism of demethylation after pregnancy.
Offspring of these rats were fed a normal diet after weaning, but still exhibited an increase in body weight, hypermethylation of the Pomc promoter, and vulnerability to diet-induced obesity.
The study demonstrates that a maternal high-fat diet creates a long-term effect of hypermethylation of Pomc promoter that is not reset in offspring by their consumption of a normal diet. “Shining light on heritable, epigenetic factors that cause obesity should help us shed unwanted pounds in future generations,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “This research shows that being overweight and obese has a direct impact on the genes we use to signal when it’s time to stop eating.”