A wide range of maternal exposures — undernutrition, obesity, diabetes, stress and infection — are associated with an increased risk of metabolic disease in offspring. Developmental influences can cause persistent structural changes in hypothalamic circuits regulating food intake in the service of energy balance. The physiological relevance of these alterations has been called into question because maternal impacts on daily caloric intake do not persist to adulthood. Recent behavioural and epidemiological studies in humans provide evidence that the relative contribution of appetitive traits related to satiety, reward and the emotional aspects of food intake regulation changes across the lifespan. This Opinion article outlines a neurodevelopmental framework to explore the possibility that crosstalk between developing circuits regulating different modalities of food intake shapes future behavioural responses to environmental challenges.
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This work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health (R01 DK089038), the Klarman Family Foundation for Eating Disorders Research and the American Diabetes Association (117IBS208).
The author declares no competing financial interests.
- Dutch Hunger Winter
A famine that occurred in the Netherlands near the end of World War II. Epidemiological studies of children of pregnant women exposed to this famine provided some of the earliest evidence of maternal programming of disease risk.
- Emotional eating
Eating to satisfy emotional needs rather than to satisfy hunger or homeostatic needs; a classic example is eating behaviour in response to stress.
- Intrauterine growth restriction
(IUGR). A condition in which a baby is smaller than expected for its gestational age because it is not growing at the normal rate inside the uterus.
- Maternal undernutrition
Insufficient food intake during pregnancy and/or lactation, usually resulting in growth restriction.
- Metabolic status
The sum of short-term energy availability and long-term energy stores; this information is transmitted by a combination of nutrient (such as glucose), hormonal (such as insulin) and neural (such as vagus-mediated gastric distension or AGRP neuron) signals.
The time period before pregnancy.
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Zeltser, L. Feeding circuit development and early-life influences on future feeding behaviour. Nat Rev Neurosci 19, 302–316 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2018.23
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