Animal Models

Wheat gluten intake increases weight gain and adiposity associated with reduced thermogenesis and energy expenditure in an animal model of obesity



The association between gluten and body weight is inconsistent. Previously, we showed that a gluten-free diet reduces weight gain without changing food intake in mice fed high-fat diets. In the present study, we investigated the effects of gluten intake on fat metabolism, thermogenesis and energy expenditure in mice fed a standard or high-fat diet.


Mice were fed four different experimental diets during 8 weeks: a control-standard diet (CD), a CD added with 4.5% of wheat gluten (CD-G), a high-fat diet (HFD) and a HFD added with 4.5% of wheat gluten (HFD-G). After 8 weeks, the mice received 99mTc-radiolabeled gluten orally to study gluten absorption and biodistribution or they underwent indirect calorimetry. After killing, subcutaneous and brown adipose tissues (SAT and BAT) were collected to assess thermogenesis-related protein expression. Lipid metabolism was studied in adipocyte cultures from the four groups.


Despite having had the same energy intake, CD-G and HFD-G mice exhibited increased body weight and fat deposits compared with their respective controls. 99mTc-GLU or its peptides were detected in the blood, liver and visceral adipose tissue, suggesting that gluten can even reach extraintestinal organs. Uncoupling protein-1 expression was reduced in the BAT of HFD-G and in the SAT of CD-G and HFD-G mice. Indirect calorimetry showed lower oxygen volume consumption in CD-G and HFD-G groups compared with their controls. In HFD mice, daily energy expenditure was reduced with gluten intake. Gluten also reduced adiponectin, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)-α and PPARγ and hormone-sensitive lipase in cultures of isolated adipocytes from HFD mice, whereas in the CD-G group, gluten intake increased interleukin-6 expression and tended to increase that of tumor necrosis factor.


Wheat gluten promotes weight gain in animals on both HFD and CD, partly by reducing the thermogenic capacity of adipose tissues.

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This study was supported by CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico), PRPq (Pro-reitoria de Pesquisa of UFMG), FAPEMIG (Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisa de Minas Gerais) and CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior). We thank Maria Helena Alves for animal care and all LABiN (Laboratório de Aterosclerose e Bioquímica Nutricional) members for their contributions and assistance.

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Correspondence to J I Alvarez-Leite.

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Freire, R., Fernandes, L., Silva, R. et al. Wheat gluten intake increases weight gain and adiposity associated with reduced thermogenesis and energy expenditure in an animal model of obesity. Int J Obes 40, 479–486 (2016).

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