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expert reaction to mice/human tissue study of maternal diet and neurological disorders in male offspring

A study published in Nature Metabolism looks at maternal diet and neurobehavioral effects in offspring.


Dr Duane Mellor, Registered Dietitian and Senior Teaching Fellow, Aston Medical School, Aston University, said:

This paper investigates the effect of feeding a high fat diet to mice and then looking at behavioural patterns and 5-HT (a neurotransmitter) which has been linked to mood, and then comparing this data with data looking at the relationship between triglycerides (fat) in human placentas and human foetal brains. These studies suggest that feeding fat in mice and levels of fat moving through a human placenta can be affect cells making 5-HT. 5-HT is a neurotransmitter that has been associated with poorer mental health, including depression and anxiety. However, some studies have suggested it may be the response of the brain to the environment, more than levels of 5-HT which could be the problem. So, it is not a definitive link between the finds of this study and how levels of fat passing through the placenta may impact mental health and wellbeing.

“It is important also to note that this study provides no data on how diet in humans can influence mental health, there is no data any of the mother’s diet in this study, and because the nature of the study, it was undertaken on foetus which came from terminated pregnancies, there is no information of how children develop or grow, and therefore the effect of this observation on child and adult mental health is not known.

“The paper also in its abstract refers to a mother’s body weight, there is no data linking the weight of a human mother to their child’s wellbeing and mental health. It is important that any person living with a higher body weight should not be stigmatised and supported to achieve the best physical and mental health they can, and this must include mothers and their children if we are going to improve the health of our communities.”


Prof Neena Modi FMedSci, Professor of Neonatal Medicine, Imperial College London, said:

“Epidemiologists have long pointed to strong associations between maternal diet and the characteristics of her offspring. However, it’s been hard to demonstrate cause and effect and we need this before we can implement effective policies to break the damaging consequences of poor diet in pregnancy. Identification of the actual biological mechanisms is also an essential step to identify possible drug targets.

“This controlled mouse study indicates a causal relationship between maternal high fat diet and neurobehavioural effects in offspring, and it identifies a biological pathway. The parallel exploration in human tissue suggests similar findings and opens an approach to identify possible therapeutic targets which could block or reduce the harmful effects.”



Maternal diet disrupts the placenta–brain axis in a sex-specific manner’ by Alexis Ceasrine et al. was published in Nature Metabolism at 4pm UK TIME on Monday 28 November 2022.




Declared interests

Dr Duane Mellor: “No conflicts of interest.”

For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.


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