Maternal Cafeteria Diet Exposure Primes Depression-like Behavior in the Offspring Evoking Lower Brain Volume Related to Changes in Synaptic Terminals and Gliosis


Maternal nutritional programming by caloric exposure during pregnancy and lactation results in long-term behavioral modification in the offspring. Here, we characterized the effect of maternal caloric exposure on synaptic and brain morphological organization and its effects on depression-like behavior susceptibility in rats' offspring. Female Wistar rats were exposed to chow or cafeteria (CAF) diet for 9 weeks (pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and lactation) and then switched to chow diet after weaning. By postnatal day 60, the male Wistar rat offspring were tested for depressive-like behavior using operational conditioning, novelty suppressed feeding, sucrose preference, and open-field test. Brain macro and microstructural morphology were analyzed using magnetic resonance imaging deformation-based morphometry (DBM) and western blot, immunohistochemistry for NMDA and AMPA receptor, synaptophysin and myelin, respectively. We found that the offspring of mothers exposed to CAF diet displayed deficient motivation showing decrease in the operant conditioning, sucrose preference, and suppressed feeding test. Macrostructural DBM analysis showed reduction in the frontomesocorticolimbic circuit volume including the nucleus accumbens (NAc), hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Microstructural analysis revealed reduced synaptic terminals in hippocampus and NAc, whereas increased glial fibrillary acidic protein in hippocampus and lateral hypothalamus, as well as a decrease in the hippocampal cell number and myelin reduction in the dentate gyrus and hilus, respectively. Also, offspring exhibited increase of the GluR1 and GLUR2 subunits of AMPA receptor, whereas a decrease in the mGluR2 expression in hippocampus. Our findings reveal that maternal programming might prime depression-like behavior in the offspring by modulating macro and micro brain organization of the frontomesocorticolimbic circuit.

Translational Psychiatry