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.
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.