Maternal exposure to high-fat diet modifies anxiety-like/depression-like behaviors and compounds of Serotonergic System in offspring: A preclinical systematic review

Int J Dev Neurosci. 2021 Aug;81(5):371-385. doi: 10.1002/jdn.10110. Epub 2021 May 2.


Maternal nutrition affects offspring physiology and behavior including susceptibility to mental health-related states. Perinatal high-fat diet (HFD) consumption has been associated with lower levels of serotonin as well as the development of anxiety-like and depression-like behaviors in offspring. The aim of this systematic review was to investigate the effects of maternal HFD during pregnancy and/or lactation on these behaviors and on some aspects of the serotonergic system. Criteria for eligibility included studies of offspring of rodents and non-human primates exposed to HFD at least during pregnancy and/or lactation, offspring that showed outcomes related to anxiety-like and depression-like behaviors and to the serotonergic system. The searches were realized in the LILACS, Web of Science, Scopus, and PubMed databases. The systematic review protocol was registered on the CAMARADES website. The internal validity was assessed by the SYRCLE risk of bias tool. The Kappa index was used for analyzing agreement among the reviewers. In addition, the PRISMA statement was used to report this systematic review. Sixteen articles were included in this review. Most of which studied HFD prior to mating and during pregnancy and lactation. All studies analyzed outcomes related to emotional behavior; three analyzed outcomes related to serotonin system compounds. Maternal consumption of HFD was found to be associated with an inconsistent pattern of the expression of TPH2 as well as reduced the immunoreactivity of 5-HT in the prefrontal cortex and increased 5-HT1A receptor expression in the dorsal raphe of offspring. An association between an HFD and alterations in emotional behavior was found in most of the studies selected.

Keywords: anxiety; behavior; depression; high-fat diet; serotonin.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin / physiology*


  • Serotonin