Women entering pregnancy with a high body weight and fat mass have babies at increased risk of becoming overweight or obese in childhood and later life. It is not known, whether exposure to a high level of maternal nutrition before pregnancy and exposure to a high transplacental nutrient supply in later pregnancy act through similar mechanisms to program later obesity. Using the pregnant sheep we have shown that maternal overnutrition in late pregnancy results in an upregulation of PPARγ activated genes in fetal visceral fat and a subsequent increase in the mass of subcutaneous fat in the postnatal lamb. Exposure to maternal overnutrition during the periconceptional period alone, however, results in an increase in total body fat mass in female lambs only with a dominant effect on visceral fat depots. Thus the early programming of later obesity may result from 'two hits', the first occurring as a result of maternal overnutrition during the periconceptional period and the second occurring as a result of increased fetal nutrition in late pregnancy. Whilst a short period of dietary restriction during the periconceptional period reverses the impact of periconceptional overnutrition on the programming of obesity, it also results in an increased lamb adrenal weight and cortisol stress response, together with changes in the epigenetic state of the insulin like growth factor 2 (IGF2) gene in the adrenal. Thus, not all of the effects of dietary restriction in overweight or obese mother in the periconceptional period may be beneficial in the longer term.
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