Public Release: 

FASEB Journal: Study shows offspring response to maternal diet and male hormone

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

A novel study published online in The FASEB Journal identifies sex-specific responses to maternal diet and androgen (male hormone) excess among male and female animal offspring.

Using mice, the study revealed sex-specific, anxiety-like behavior in the offspring of both normal-weight and obese pregnant mice exposed to the androgen dihydrotestosterone. Independent of the mothers' other diet components, female offspring exposed to maternal androgens in utero developed an anxiety-like behavior. Male offspring, on the other hand, were unaffected by the elevated maternal androgen levels, but displayed anxiety-like behavior in response to a maternal high-fat-high-sucrose (HFHS) diet. The findings could have important clinical implications for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that is associated with androgen excess and closely linked to obesity.

To conduct the experiment, doctoral student Maria Manti and Elisabet Stener-Victorin, PhD, professor of Physiology and Pharmacology, Reproductive Endocrinology and Metabolism, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues investigated 16 groups of female and male mice offspring. During fetal life, the mice were exposed to both diet-induced obesity and male hormone in the mother. After birth, half of the mice were exposed to HFHS diet-induced obesity to also investigate the effect of diet in the offspring.

The researchers conducted anxiety-like behavior tests to assess if these environmental factors affected the mice's behavior, and if so, how these factors interacted with each other. They next assessed whether these behavior changes were related to gene expression changes within the brain.

The research team found that a number of genes implicated in anxiety were dysregulated in the amygdala and hypothalamus in a sex-specific manner. They also showed that consumption of a HFHS diet in the offspring led to gene expression changes within the brain and may have a role in the deterioration of anxiety symptoms.

"The novelty of our study is the multifactorial approach, which made it possible to distinguish between factors including diet-induced obesity and exposure to male hormones during pregnancy; diet-induced obesity in the offspring; and sex-specific differences," Stener-Victorin said.

"This insightful analysis highlights the interplay of maternal diet and androgen levels in effecting a transgenerational physiological consequence," said Thoru Pederson, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.


Submit to The FASEB Journal by visiting, and receive monthly highlights by signing up at The FASEB Journal is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). It is the world's most cited biology journal according to the Institute for Scientific Information and has been recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century.

FASEB is composed of 30 societies with more than 125,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. Our mission is to advance health and well-being by promoting research and education in biological and biomedical sciences through collaborative advocacy and service to our societies and their members.

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