Maternal high-fat diet triggers lipotoxicity in the fetal livers of nonhuman primates

Carrie E. McCurdy, Jacalyn M. Bishop, Sarah M. Williams, Bernadette E. Grayson, M. Susan Smith, Jacob E. Friedman, Kevin L. Grove

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    488 Scopus citations


    Maternal obesity is thought to increase the offspring's risk of juvenile obesity and metabolic diseases; however, the mechanism(s) whereby excess maternal nutrition affects fetal development remain poorly understood. Here, we investigated in nonhuman primates the effect of chronic high-fat diet (HFD) on the development of fetal metabolic systems. We found that fetal offspring from both lean and obese mothers chronically consuming a HFD had a 3-fold increase in liver triglycerides (TGs). In addition, fetal offspring from HFD-fed mothers (O-HFD) showed increased evidence of hepatic oxidative stress early in the third trimester, consistent with the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). O-HFD animals also exhibited elevated hepatic expression of gluconeogenic enzymes and transcription factors. Furthermore, fetal glycerol levels were 2-fold higher in O-HFD animals than in control fetal offspring and correlated with maternal levels. The increased fetal hepatic TG levels persisted at P180, concurrent with a 2-fold increase in percent body fat. Importantly, reversing the maternal HFD to a low-fat diet during a subsequent pregnancy improved fetal hepatic TG levels and partially normalized gluconeogenic enzyme expression, without changing maternal body weight. These results suggest that a developing fetus is highly vulnerable to excess lipids, independent of maternal diabetes and/or obesity, and that exposure to this may increase the risk of pediatric NAFLD.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)323-335
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Clinical Investigation
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Feb 2 2009

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Medicine(all)


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