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Experimental study of the epigenetic implications of changes in the composition of fatty acids in the diet during pregnancy and their consequences for adult offspring

16th national competition for scientific and technical research

The genome and epigenome

Senior Researcher : Emilio Herrera Castillón

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Research Centre or Institution : Universidad San Pablo-CEU. Madrid.


During intrauterine development there are periods in which the fetus is vulnerable to disturbances in maternal nutrition. This project therefore has the aim of investigating variations in the composition of fatty acids in the maternal diet during the first half of gestation in rats and their results on the health of offspring at different ages, and their potential epigenetic implications. Special attention is paid to changes along the insulin-glucose axis.

Results obtained to date: from day 1 to day 12 of gestation, the rats were fed an isocaloric diet containing 9% soya, olive, fish, linseed or palm oil as the only non-vitamin fatty ingredient. After this date, all of the animals were fed with a standard diet and their offspring were studied at an age of 4, 8 and 12 months. The males in the fish oil group weighed less, and they had less lumbar adipose tissue than those in the other groups, while no differences were observed among the females. The levels of glucose in plasma did not differ between the groups, although base insulin following an oral overdose of glucose was lower in the males from the fish oil group at the different ages studied than in the other groups. They also displayed a lower index of sensitivity to insulin. To conclude, a moderate increase in n‑3 fatty acids in the maternal diet during the first period of gestation reduces the accumulation of fat and insulin resistance over age in males but not in females. It is suggested that this lesser degree of adiposity among the males in the fish oil group is the cause of their lessened insulin resistance when they are adults. The epigenetic implications of these changes are currently being studied.

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