Impacts of Maternal High-Fat Diet on Stress-Related Behaviour and the Endocrine Response to Stress in Offspring

  • Sameera Abuaish
  • Patrick O. McGowanEmail author
Part of the Nutrition and Health book series (NH)


The early life environment plays a profound role in shaping behaviour throughout the lifespan by “programming” neural development. A major conduit for environmental factors, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, is involved in maintaining endocrine homeostasis through neural regulatory feedback mechanisms. As such, the HPA axis links energy homeostasis with reactivity to psychosocial stress and emotional behaviour and is highly sensitive to maternal factors during prenatal development and early postnatal life. Maternal obesity is a major factor in programming a child to metabolic disorders. Recent studies have also revealed its influence in programming the mental health in offspring. Here, we review the effects of maternal high-fat diet on the mother and on stress-related neurodevelopment and behaviour in her offspring. We discuss rodent models using maternal high-fat diet exposure and their impacts on physiological, behavioural and epigenetic outcomes observed in offspring.


Maternal obesity High-fat diet Gestation Lactation Developmental programming Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis Corticosterone Anxiety Stress Epigenetics DNA methylation 



11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase


α-Melanocyte-stimulating hormone


Adrenocorticotropic hormone


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor




Corticotropin-releasing hormone


DNA methyltransferase


Developmental Origins of Health and Disease


Embryonic day


Growth arrest and DNA damage-inducible beta


Glucocorticoid receptor


High-fat diet




Mineralocorticoid receptor


Nuclear factor κB


Prefrontal cortex


Postnatal day




Paraventicular nucleus


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Environmental Epigenetics and DevelopmentUniversity of Toronto ScarboroughTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of Cell and Systems BiologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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