Enhanced offspring predisposition to steatohepatitis with maternal high-fat diet is associated with epigenetic and microbiome alterations

PLoS One. 2017 Apr 17;12(4):e0175675. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0175675. eCollection 2017.


Objective: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an important co-morbidity associated with obesity and a precursor to steatohepatitis. However, the contributions of gestational and early life influences on development of NAFLD and NASH remain poorly appreciated.

Methods: Two independent studies were performed to examine whether maternal over-nutrition via exposure to high fat diet (HFD) leads to exacerbated hepatic responses to post-natal HFD and methionine choline deficient (MCD) diets in the offspring. Offspring of both control diet- and HFD-fed dams were weaned onto control and HFD, creating four groups.

Results: When compared to their control diet-fed littermates, offspring of HF-dams weaned onto HFD gained greater body weight; had increased relative liver weight and showed hepatic steatosis and inflammation. Similarly, this group revealed significantly greater immune response and pro-fibrogenic gene expression via RNA-seq. In parallel, 7-8 week old offspring were challenged with either control or MCD diets for 3 weeks. Responses to MCD diets were also exacerbated due to maternal HFD as seen by gene expression of classical pro-fibrogenic genes. Quantitative genome-scale DNA methylation analysis of over 1 million CpGs showed persistent epigenetic changes in key genes in tissue development and metabolism (Fgf21, Ppargc1β) with maternal HFD and in cell adhesion and communication (VWF, Ephb2) in the combination of maternal HFD and offspring MCD diets. Maternal HFD also influenced gut microbiome profiles in offspring leading to a decrease in α-diversity. Linear regression analysis revealed association between serum ALT levels and Coprococcus, Coriobacteriacae, Helicobacterioceae and Allobaculum.

Conclusion: Our findings indicate that maternal HFD detrimentally alters epigenetic and gut microbiome pathways to favor development of fatty liver disease and its progressive sequelae.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choline / administration & dosage
  • Choline Deficiency / complications
  • DNA Methylation
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Methionine / administration & dosage
  • Methionine / deficiency
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / etiology*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / genetics
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / microbiology
  • Overnutrition / complications
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / microbiology


  • Methionine
  • Choline