Our work on programming of behaviour

Our lab has had a long-standing interest in the effects of maternal nutrition during pregnancy upon the subsequent behaviour of the offspring. Back in 2004 we started a series of experiments to examine the impact of maternal protein restriction upon feeding behaviour. We noted that offspring from protein restricted mothers made different selections of foods when presented with items which were rich in fat, protein or carbohydrate, with a greater preference for high fat foods exhibited. Some of these effects were sex-specific and the impact of maternal nutrition appeared to wash out as the offspring aged. Further investigations in this area attempted to explore the possible mechanistic basis of the effect, but although microarray studies suggested possible roles for taste receptors or expression of appetite regulators such as galanin, no firm answers were obtained.

More recently we have been working with our colleague Peter Voigt in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science to examine the effects of maternal over nutrition upon behaviour. PhD student Thom Wright took the lead on this and demonstrated that exposure of rat pups to a maternal cafeteria diet during lactation had an impact upon a number of different behaviours. Open field testing and tests using the elevated plus maze revealed that the offspring of over-fed dams were less anxious and more exploratory that rats whose mothers had been fed standard laboratory rodent rations. Thom’s work also showed that exposure to the cafeteria diet during lactation had a profound effect on female offspring undergoing the Behavioural Satiety Sequence test. This showed that these females took longer to become satiated by a test meal. This may be explained by programming of the hypothalamic serotoninergic system.

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At the moment this work is moving away from the original studies of programming of feeding behaviour, but we continue to publish work on cafeteria feeding, obesity and other rat behaviours. A new paper entitled ‘the impact of cafeteria feeding during lactation in the rat on novel object discrimination in the offspring’ will be published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2015.

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Calling former undergraduate students

A lot of students pass through our Division each year, as Nutritional Sciences at Nottingham is the biggest provider of nutrition training in the UK Higher Education sector. One thing that we find really difficult is keeping track of where they all go once they have graduated. If you are one of our former BSc Nutrition, BSc Nutrition and Food Science, BSc Nutritional Biochemistry or MSc Nutritional Sciences students, please could you get in touch! I would love to know what you are doing now.

Our work in Botswana

This week sees the launch of the first fieldwork period for the  Botswana Infant Nutrition Project, which has been at the planning stage for many months. PhD student Paphani Chalashika will be flying out to Botswana at the end of this week and is expected to be there for 3-4 months.

Like all countries in sub-Saharan Africa Botswana has a major problem with malnutrition among the under fives. Malnutrition is a major contributor to death and infectious disease. The Botswanan government is active in targeting malnutrition and has in place a process for monitoring child growth and nutritional status and for intervention where food insecurity and malnutrition are identified. However, the delivery of such services may differ substantially between urban and rural communities and the high prevalence of HIV infection is a further complication in achieving uniform and successful strategies for combatting malnutrition.

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The Botswana Infant Nutrition Project is initially focusing on addressing the following research questions:

    1. What is the prevalence of stunting, wasting and underweight in HIV-exposed and non-HIV exposed infants?
    2.  What is the relationship between stunting, wasting or underweight with identified factors such as;  Infant’s characteristics: HIV exposure, age, gender, birth weight, birth length, Apgar score, Developmental delay. Mother’s characteristics: age at birth, educational level, employment status, income, marital status. Household characteristics: availability of electricity, water source, toilet type, main source of fuel.  Diarrhoea frequency. Frequency of use of Government fortified cereal. Number of siblings
    3. What is the nutritional intake (energy, protein) in HIV-exposed and non-HIV exposed infants?
    4. How effective is the Child Welfare Clinic Card (CWCC) as a child health data collection tool?

Paphani will be recruiting mothers and infants in Francistown, Kgatleng, Selebi Phikwe and Kweneng East working through hospital clinics, health posts and mobile health stops.

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Bumps and Beyond- an intervention to limit pregnancy weight gain.

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Maternal obesity during pregnancy is a major risk factor for difficult pregnancies that harm both mother and baby. Maternal obesity during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders and is also a significant risk factor for maternal and fetal death. Obesity increases likelihood of medical intervention during labour and longer hospital stay after delivery.

Previous research on interventions to manage women’s weight during pregnancy has demonstrated limited benefit for the health of mothers and babies. There is, however, a local NHS commissioned service in Lincolnshire which is bucking this trend. Bumps and Beyond is a recently established and ongoing antenatal weight management service in Lincolnshire. All pregnant women attending clinics at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust sites (Lincoln, Boston, Grantham and Gainsborough) with a BMI ≥35 kg/m2 are currently invited to take part in the intervention, which is delivered on a one-to-one basis by either a midwife or healthy lifestyle advisor at hospital antenatal clinics or local community ‘health shops’. The full intervention comprises seven sessions, beginning when women are around 16 weeks pregnant and continuing every 2-4 weeks until week 36 of pregnancy. The intervention comprises written materials and verbal advice relating to diet and physical activity recommendations

We published the first evaluation of the efficacy of Bumps and Beyond in 2014, showing that women who completed the intervention were significantly less likely to suffer from hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, having gained less than half the weight that women outside the intervention put on during their pregnancy. The current emphasis of our work is to develop an understanding of how and why Bumps and Beyond has been so successful, when the majority of pregnancy weight management interventions have proven to be ineffective. Using a qualitative approach we will be examining the environment in which the intervention takes place, the interactions between the staff and participants and the experiences of women who go through the programme. Developing a detailed understanding of the processes that lead to success will be an essential step if Bumps and Beyond is to be rolled out to a wider community of NHS trusts.

Investigators: Simon Langley-Evans, Judy Swift, Sarah Ellis

Poetry

It is National Poetry Day and to show that I am not just a scientist/nerd/geek/uncouth individual, I thought I would share a special composition that I wrote many years ago. It’s about the pet of a good friend.

There was a dog called Bertie
Whose bum was very dirty.
He liked to sniff
Its fragrant whiff,
Which made his brain go hurty.

Thank you for your time.