The epigenetic influence of obese parents at conception

This 2016 German rodent study found:

“Using in vitro fertilization to ensure exclusive inheritance via the gametes, we show that a parental high-fat diet renders offspring more susceptible to developing obesity and diabetes in a sex- and parent of origin–specific mode.”

It would have benefited the researchers to have made the full study freely available. As it is, an interested reader has to ferret out information such as the basic study design (provided in a graphic) which had in the caption that both the parental and offspring diets were normal until:

  • “Between 9 [young adult] and 15 weeks of age.
  • This experiment was replicated at least three times for each F1 cohort, using sperm and oocytes from independent donors.”

Compare that information with the description provided by the study’s most thorough news coverage:

“Researchers raised genetically similar mice for six weeks [beginning at 9 weeks of age] on one of three diets: standard mouse chow [13.5% fat], a low-fat diet [11% fat], or a high-fat [60% fat], high-calorie diet. The latter became obese and developed severe glucose intolerance (a precursor to type 2 diabetes), while the other mice stayed slim.

Harvesting the eggs and sperm from mice in each of the diet groups, the researchers then used in vitro fertilization to make specific, controlled crosses. All of the embryos were transferred to healthy, skinny [actually, the foster mothers were on the standard mouse chow diet] foster mothers. To see if the diet of their biological parents affected their metabolism, all of the pups [actually, young adults at age 9 weeks] were challenged with a high-fat, high-calorie diet [beginning at 9 weeks of age].

Unsurprisingly, the female pups with two obese parents had a high degree of insulin resistance and gained at least 20 percent more weight than the offspring of parents on standard or low-fat diets. Female pups with only one obese parent, either the mother or the father, also gained more weight than the control groups—but only between 8 and 14 percent. The result suggests that the metabolic influence of each parent may be additive.

But in a puzzling finding, the male pups didn’t have the same pattern. The male pups of obese parents did tend to be a bit heavier than those from the control groups, but the difference wasn’t statistically significant, the authors report. They did, however, also have a high degree of insulin resistance.

Examining the glucose intolerance more closely, the researchers noted that offspring (both male and female) tended to have more severe glucose intolerance if their mothers were obese. This backs up epidemiological data in humans that suggests a stronger maternal influence over type 2 diabetes development.”

The study didn’t determine causal biological mechanisms for the observed epigenetic effects. No measurements of DNA methylation, histone modifications, or microRNAs were taken.

I look forward to further research into epigenetic contributions at conception to adulthood symptoms. “Epigenetic germline inheritance of diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance” Thanks to the lead author Peter Huypens for providing a copy of the full study

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