The impact of poor fetal growth and chronic hyperpalatable diet exposure in adulthood on hippocampal function and feeding patterns in male rats

Dev Psychobiol. 2024 Feb;66(2):e22459. doi: 10.1002/dev.22459.


Poor fetal growth affects eating behavior and the mesocorticolimbic system; however, its influence on the hippocampus has been less explored. Brain insulin sensitivity has been linked to developmental plasticity in response to fetal adversity and to cognitive performance following high-fat diet intake. We investigated whether poor fetal growth and exposure to chronic hyperpalatable food in adulthood could influence the recognition of environmental and food cues, eating behavior patterns, and hippocampal insulin signaling. At 60 days of life, we assigned male offspring from a prenatal animal model of 50% food restriction (FR) to receive either a high-fat and -sugar (HFS) diet or standard chow (CON) diet. Behavioral tests were conducted at 140 days, then tissues were collected. HFS groups showed a diminished hippocampal pAkt/Akt ratio. FR-CON and FR-HFS groups had higher levels of suppressor of cytokine signaling 3, compared to control groups. FR groups showed increased exploration of a novel hyperpalatable food, independent of their diet, and HFS groups exhibited overall lower entropy (less random, more predictable eating behavior) when the environment changed. Poor fetal growth and chronic HFS diet in adulthood altered hippocampal insulin signaling and eating patterns, diminishing the flexibility associated with eating behavior in response to extrinsic changes in food availability in the environment.

Keywords: feeding behavior; food cues; hippocampus; hyperpalatable food; insulin signaling; intrauterine growth restriction.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Fetal Growth Retardation*
  • Hippocampus
  • Humans
  • Insulin
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Insulin