Mother's diet changes behavior of genes in her placenta

St. Louis, MO – Biomedical researcher Cheryl Rosenthal fed pregnant mice three different diets: one high in fat, one high in carbohydrates, and the standard laboratory mouse food. She then looked to see how the genes in the placentas of those pregnant mice responded.

"Different genes were turned on in response to whatever that maternal diet was," said Rosenthal. "So the placenta sensed what the nutrient content of that diet was, and in the females, it tended to respond by upregulating various genes."

Rosenthal found that for male fetuses, the placenta was less responsive to maternal diet - and a less responsive placenta could mean males might be more at risk from mom's unhealthy eating habits.

Rosenthal says her research may explain why in humans, men tend to be at higher risk than women for conditions caused by in utero exposures, like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and stroke.