Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute have recently made a breakthrough discovery on how to reverse the damaging effects mothers’ obesity can cause in their children. Scientists managed to identify the process by which these effects can be passed from the mother to the child and how to reverse that process. The study, titled “Mitochondrial dysfunction in oocytes of obese mothers: transmission to offspring and reversal by pharmacological endoplasmic reticulum stress inhibitors,” was published in journal Development.
Women who are obese tend to face several difficulties regarding fertility and their own ability to conceive. Obesity can also result in alterations in the growth of the babies during pregnancy and can lead to permanent and severe metabolism problems; these problems may pass from generation to generation, explained Rebecca Robker, lead author of the study. In Dr. Robker’s laboratory, efforts have been made to further understand the key mechanism under this multi-generational health concern, and they have successfully found a way to stop it.
Obesity causes a stress response that leads to damage in mitochondria — organelles responsible for the production of energy that supports the biological processes of the living cells. “All of the mitochondria in our bodies come from our mother. If the mother is obese, this produces stresses that lead to reduced transmission of mitochondria to the offspring. We found that the eggs of such mothers lead to heavier-than-normal fetuses with greatly reduced amounts of mitochondrial DNA and other obvious signs of damage,” explained Robker in a press release.
Once the researchers identified the problem they attempted to solve it by pinpointing the types of bodily stress involved, using compounds to ease the body’s stress. They began by testing the very same compounds used in diabetes trials, which were revealed to be successful in preventing stress responses and, as a consequence, ceasing the transmission of the negative effects of obesity from one generation to the next.
“It restored egg quality, embryo development and mitochondrial DNA to levels equivalent to those of a healthy mother. Effectively, the problem was fully reversed,” Professor Rebecca added. “Importantly, this work further highlights that a women’s nutritional state prior to getting pregnant matters greatly. Women are urged to eat healthy diets to optimize their chances for a healthy conception and to reduce the potential impact on their child’s future health.”