Maternal obesity may negatively affect children’s lung development

Obesity during pregnancy may negatively affect children’s lung development, according to new research. The study, published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology-;Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, was chosen as an APSselect article for July.

Research shows that babies born to overweight people are more likely to develop respiratory conditions ranging from recurring lung infections to chronic lung diseases, including asthma. These risk factors may occur in part because these infants have been found to produce less of a chemical called “surfactant,” which keeps the air sacs in the lungs open. In addition, people with obesity may have a surplus of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat tissue. Leptin is known to regulate appetite but also impairs the development of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. Angiogenesis plays a significant role in lung development, therefore “interruption of this temporally sensitive process could result in permanent deficits in lung development and/or function,” researchers from The Ohio State University wrote.

The research team studied the offspring of mice that were fed either a high-fat diet or normal chow during pregnancy and nursing. After weaning, the offspring followed either a high-fat diet or normal diet. The researchers performed pulmonary function tests and examined the lung tissue of the animals. They found an increase in leptin, more inflammatory cells, and fewer blood vessels and air sacs in the offspring born to the mice on a high-fat diet. The mice fed a high-fat diet after weaning also had fewer functioning air sacs.

“Our data support the hypothesis that maternal high-fat diet-induced obesity alters lung development in offspring, and that this is due, in part, to disruption of normal pulmonary angiogenesis in the developing lung,” the researchers wrote. This finding will “provide new avenues for future investigations and potential therapeutic interventions,” they added.

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Journal reference:

Heyob, K.M. et al. (2019) Maternal High Fat Diet Alters Lung Development and Function in the Offspring. American Journal of Physiology-;Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology.

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