Risk for liver disease is higher in offspring of mothers with high-fat diets

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published May 7, 2017

Key Takeaways

Exposure to a high-fat diet while in the womb and immediately after birth may alter the liver and promote the development and faster progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease later in life, according to results from a study conducted in a mouse model, and presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Investigative Pathology during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting.

“Complications of obesity are a significant cost burden for the medical system, especially given the prevalence of obesity. Understanding how maternal exposures impact obesity-related disease, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, will allow us to develop lower cost preventive therapies to utilize up front rather than awaiting complications down the road,” said Michael Thompson, MD, PhD, pediatric endocrinology fellow at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, OH, who presented the results at the meeting.

Dr. Thompson and fellow researchers found that developmental exposure to a diet high in fat can change the liver and these changes will last into adulthood, even with a low-fat diet after birth.

In addition, they found that the bile acid levels and genes that regulate bile acid are changed in these offspring that were exposed to a maternal high-fat diet. These results suggest that such offspring could have cholestasis with impaired normal flow of bile.

“If human offspring from obese mothers have a similar risk for developing fibrosis, as we see in mice, we may be able to predict who is going to develop more serious disease,” said Dr. Thompson. “Knowing who is most at risk for more serious disease will guide us on which patients should be treated more aggressively. Furthermore, understanding the biological mechanisms involved in this increased risk could lead to preventative therapies.”

He added that he and his team plan to further study this model to understand the mechanisms that underlie the risk for disease progression and to evaluate preventive therapies that may be possible during pregnancy or after birth.

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