Being overweight during pregnancy mainly affects boys’ brains

About the episode

More than half of women in the United States are overweight or obese during pregnancy. This carries health risks for these women, but also affects their children’s brains.

There are indications that being overweight in the mother, especially in boys, may increase the risk of depression or autism. But how can the accumulation of fatty tissue in the mother – via the placenta – ensure that the brains of males in particular are affected? To find this answer, the researchers studied pregnant mice that had been fed a high-fat diet.

In these mice, they saw how immune cells in the brains of boys, but not girls, responded to the presence of a lot of fat by consuming extra amounts of serotonin. Which led to depressive behavior in these mice after birth. They also saw this lack of serotonin in human babies of overweight mothers.

But why is this happening? Probably because excess fat also creates more bacterial components in the mother’s blood. They suspect that these are responsible – at least in mice – for this immune response in the boys’ brains.

In mice, there also appears to be a response to obesity in girls. Although this is very different from boys. Now they want to find out exactly how it works.

Read more: Mom’s dietary fat rewires male and female brains differently.

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