A maternal diet high in saturated fat impairs offspring hippocampal function in a sex-specific manner

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While a maternal diet high in saturated fat is likely to affect foetal brain development, whether the effects are the same for male and female offspring is unclear. As a result, we randomly assigned female, Sprague-Dawley rats to either a control, or high-fat diet (HFD; 45% of calories from saturated fat) for 10 weeks. A range of biometrics were collected, and hippocampal function was assessed at both the tissue level (by measuring synaptic plasticity) and at the behavioural level (using the Morris water maze; MWM). Subsequently, a subset of animals was bred and remained on their respective diets throughout gestation and lactation. On post-natal day 21, offspring were weaned and placed onto the control diet; biometrics and spatial learning and memory were then assessed at both adolescence and young adulthood. Although the HFD led to changes in the maternal generation consistent with an obese phenotype, no impairments were noted at the level of hippocampal synaptic plasticity, or MWM performance. Unexpectedly, among the offspring, a sexually dimorphic effect upon MWM performance became apparent. In particular, adolescent male offspring displayed a greater latency to reach the platform during training trials and spent less time in the target quadrant during the probe test; notably, when re-examined during young adulthood, the performance deficit was no longer present. Overall, our work suggests the existence of sexual dimorphism with regard to how a maternal HFD affects hippocampal-dependent function in the offspring brain.

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