Maternal Physical Activity and Sex Impact Markers of Hepatic Mitochondrial Health

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Abstract

Introduction

Maternal exercise and physical activity during the gestational period can be protective against maternal high-fat diet–induced hepatic steatosis in older offspring. However, it is unknown whether these protective effects are seen in younger offspring. In this study, we investigated whether maternal physical activity would attenuate maternal western diet (WD)–induced steatosis in young adult rats.

Methods

Female Wistar rats (7–8 wk of age) were randomized into WD (42% fat, 27% sucrose) or normal chow diet (ND), and further randomized into physical activity (RUN) or sedentary (SED) conditions for a total of four groups. Dams returned to ND/SED conditions after parturition. Postweaning, offspring were maintained in ND/SED conditions for 18 wk.

Results

Maternal WD-induced increases in male offspring body mass was attenuated in the WD/RUN offspring (P < 0.05). Maternal WD feeding significantly increased hepatic steatosis in male (but not female offspring), which was not attenuated by maternal RUN. However, maternal RUN increased (P < 0.05) hepatic markers of mitochondrial biogenesis and mitophagy (mitochondrial transcription factor A, peroxisome proliferator activator receptor γ, and nuclear factor E2–related factor 2) in all offspring and the mitophagy marker BCL2-interacting protein 3 in WD/RUN offspring. Interestingly, hepatic markers of de novo lipogenesis (fatty acid synthase and acetyl coenzyme A carboxylase), mitophagy (autophagy-related gene 12:5, BCL2-interacting protein 3, P62, and LC3 II/I), and mitochondria biogenesis/content (mitochondrial transcription factor A and OXPHOS-Complex II) were significantly increased in female versus male offspring.

Conclusion

Although maternal physical activity did not attenuate maternal WD-induced hepatic steatosis as has been previously reported in older adult offspring, it did significantly increase hepatic markers of mitochondrial biogenesis and mitophagy. Furthermore, female offspring had elevated hepatic markers of mitochondrial health, possibly explaining why female rats are protected against maternal WD-induced hepatic steatosis. Future studies are warranted to shed light on the time line of hepatic steatosis development under the influence of maternal physical activity.

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