Food and Behaviour Research

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Maternal trans fat intake during pregnancy or lactation impairs memory and alters BDNF and TrkB levels in the hippocampus of adult offspring exposed to chronic mild stress

Pase CS, Roversi K et al 2017 (2016) Physiol Behav.  2017 Feb 1;169 114-123. doi: 10.1016 

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This study aimed to assess the influence of maternal dietary fat intake during pregnancy or lactation on memory of adult offspring after chronic mild stress (CMS) exposure.

Female Wistar rats were supplemented daily with soybean oil/fish oil (SO/FO) or hydrogenated vegetable fat (HVF) by oral gavage (3.0g/kg body weight) during pregnancy or lactation. On post-natal day (PND) 60, half of the animals were exposed to CMS following behavioral assessments.

While the adult offspring born under influence of SO/FO and HVF supplementations during pregnancy showed higher levels of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids (FA) series DHA and ARA metabolites, respectively, in the hippocampus, adult offspring born from supplemented dams during lactation showed higher levels of their precursors: ALA and LA. However, only HVF supplementation allowed TFA incorporation of adult offspring, and levels were higher in lactation period.

Adult offspring born from dams supplemented with trans fat in both pregnancy and lactation showed short and long-term memory impairments before and after CMS. Furthermore, our study also showed higher memory impairment in offspring born from HVF-supplemented dams during lactation in comparison to pregnancy.

BDNF expression was increased by stress exposure in offspring from both SO/FO- and HVF-supplemented dams during pregnancy. In addition, offspring from HVF-supplemented dams showed decreased TrkB expression in both supplemented periods, regardless of stress exposure.

In conclusion, these findings show for the first time that the type of dietary FA as well as the period of brain development is able to change FA incorporation in brain neural membranes.


This animal study showed that the type of dietary fat consumed by rat mothers during pregnancy or lactation influenced the brain composition of their adult offspring, with effects on both their responses to stress, and their memory performance.  

Specifically, maternal diets that were rich in trans fats (artificial fats found in hydrogenated vegetable oils) fed during pregancy or lactation led to deficits in both short and long-term memory in their adult offspring, as well as brain changes associated with increased stress-susceptibility.

Findings from animal studies can never be replied upon to generalise to humans, but these results add to the already substantial evidence that the consumption of trans fats has negative effects on brain development and function.

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