Background: Obesity is one of the leading threats to global public health. It is consequent to abnormal energy metabolism. Currently, it has been well established that maternal exposure to environmental stressors that cause inappropriate fetal development may have long-term adverse effects on offspring energy metabolism in an exposure timing-dependent manner, known as developmental programming of health and diseases paradigm. Rapidly increasing evidence has indicated that maternal exposure to ambient fine particles (PM2.5) correlates to abnormal fetal development. In the present study, we therefore assessed whether maternal exposure to diesel exhaust PM2.5 (DEP), the major component of ambient PM2.5 in urban areas, programs offspring energy metabolism, and further examined how the timing of exposure impacts this programming.
Results: The growth trajectory of offspring shows that although prenatal maternal exposure to DEP did not impact the birth weight of offspring, it significantly decreased offspring body weight from postnatal week 2 until the end of observation. This weight loss effect of prenatal maternal exposure to DEP coincided with decreased food intake but not alteration in brown adipose tissue (BAT) morphology. The hypophagic effect of prenatal maternal exposure to DEP was in concord with decreased hypothalamic expression of an orexigenic peptide NPY, suggesting that the prenatal maternal exposure to DEP impacts offspring energy balance primarily through programming of food intake. Paradoxically, the reduced body weight resulted from prenatal maternal exposure to DEP was accompanied by increased mass of epididymal adipose tissue, which was due to hyperplasia as morphological analysis did not observe any hypertrophy. In direct contrast, the postnatal mothering by DEP-exposed dams increased offspring body weight during lactation and adulthood, paralleled by markedly increased fat accumulation and decreased UCP1 expression in BAT but not alteration in food intake. The weight gain induced by postnatal mothering by DEP-exposed dams was also expressed as an increased adiposity. But it concurred with a marked hypertrophy of adipocytes.
Conclusion: Prenatal and postnatal mothering by DEP-exposed dams differentially program offspring energy metabolism, underscoring consideration of the exposure timing when examining the adverse effects of maternal exposure to ambient PM2.5.
Keywords: Developmental programming; Diesel exhaust PM2.5; Maternal exposure; Obesity.