Transcriptomic and epigenetic changes in the hypothalamus are involved in an increased susceptibility to a high-fat-sucrose diet in prenatally stressed female rats

Neuroendocrinology. 2012;96(3):249-60. doi: 10.1159/000341684. Epub 2012 Sep 19.


Disturbances in the prenatal period are linked to metabolic disorders in adulthood, implying the hypothalamic systems of appetite and energy balance regulation. In order to analyze the central effects of a high-fat-sucrose (HFS) diet in prenatally stressed (PNS) female adult rats, Wistar dams were exposed to chronic-mild-stress during the third week of gestation and were then compared with unstressed controls. Adult female offspring were fed a chow or HFS diet for 10 weeks. Changes in body weight, adiposity as well as expression and methylation levels of selected hypothalamic genes were analyzed. PNS induced lower birthweight and body length with no changes in body fat mass. After the HFS diet, the expected overweight model was observed accompanied by higher adiposity and insulin resistance, which was worsened by PNS. The stress model induced higher energy intake in adulthood. Hypothalamic gene expression analysis revealed that the HFS diet decreased Slc6a3 (dopamine active transporter), NPY (neuropeptide Y) and IR (insulin receptor) and increased POMC (pro-opiomelanocortin). Hypothalamic DNA methylation levels in the promoter region of Slc6a3 revealed that Slc6a3 was hypermethylated by the HFS diet in CpG site -53 bp to the transcription start site. HFS diet also hypermethylated CpG site -167 bp of the POMC promoter only in nonstressed animals. No correlations were found between gene expression and DNA methylation levels. These results imply that early-life stress in females increased predisposition to diet-induced obesity in adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Disease Susceptibility / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism*
  • Neuropeptide Y / metabolism
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / genetics
  • Prenatal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / genetics
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Sucrose / metabolism
  • Sucrose / pharmacology*
  • Transcriptome


  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Slc6a3 protein, rat
  • Sucrose
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin