Given the alarming increase in childhood, adolescent and adult obesity there is an imperative need for understanding the early factors affecting obesity and for treatments that may help prevent or at least moderate it. Exercise is frequently considered as an effective treatment for obesity however the empirical literature includes many conflicting findings. In the present study, we used the OLETF rat model of early-onset hyperphagia-induced obesity to examine the influence of early exercise on peripheral adiposity-related parameters in both males and females. Rats were provided voluntary access to running wheels from postnatal day (PND) 22 until PND45. We examined fat pad weight (brown, retroperitoneal, inguinal and epididymal); inguinal adipocyte size and number; and leptin, adiponectin, corticosterone and creatinine levels. We also examined body weight, feeding efficiency and spontaneous intake. Early voluntary exercise reduced intake, adiposity and leptin in the OLETF males following a sharp reduction in adipocyte size despite a significant increase in fat cell number. Exercising males from the lean LETO control strain presented stable intake, but reduced body fat, feeding efficiency and increased plasma creatinine, suggesting an increment in muscle mass. OLETF females showed reduced feeding efficiency and liver fat, and a significant increase in brown fat. Exercising LETO control females increased intake, body weight and creatinine, but no changes in body fat. Overall, OLETF rats presented higher adiponectin levels than controls in both basal and post-exercise conditions. The results suggest an effective early time frame, when OLETF males can be successfully "re-programmed" through voluntary exercise; in OLETF females the effect is much more moderate. Findings expose sex-dependent peripheral mechanisms in coping with energy challenges.
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