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Maternal obesity: sex-specific in utero changes in fetal brain autophagy and mTOR.

Obesity 2024 April 22
OBJECTIVE: Maternal obesity affects 39.7% of reproductive-age women in the United States. Emerging research has suggested that in utero exposure to maternal obesity is associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes, but knowledge of underlying mechanisms in human samples is lacking.

METHODS: A matched case-control study was performed in women with singleton fetuses who were undergoing elective pregnancy termination at gestational ages 15 to 21 weeks. Maternal adiponectin levels from plasma were measured using ELISA kits. RNA was extracted from fetal brain tissue using RNeasy Mini Kit (QIAGEN). mRNA expression from ADIPOR1, ADIPOR2, MTOR, ATG5, ATG7, BECN1, and MAP1LC3B was quantified through the ΔΔCt method and using GAPDH as a housekeeping gene.

RESULTS: We have identified transcription patterns associated with inhibition of autophagy in male fetal brain tissue exposed to maternal obesity (↑MTOR, ↓ATG5, ↓ATG7, and ↓MAP1LC3B), with female fetuses demonstrating either no change in transcription or nonsignificant changes associated with increased autophagy. There was significant downregulation of the autophagy-associated gene BECN1 in both male and female individuals who were exposed to obesity in utero.

CONCLUSIONS: We present novel evidence suggesting that in utero exposure to maternal obesity in humans may significantly affect neurodevelopment, especially in male fetuses, through alterations in normal autophagy molecular mechanisms and with adiponectin as a potential mediator.

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