Ward-Flanagan R, Scavuzzo C, Mandhane PJ, Bolduc FV, Dickson CT (2020) PLoS One. 2020 Jan;15(1): e0227938. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0227938. eCollection 2020.
Nutritional intake during gestation is known to impact health outcomes for progeny. Correlational evidence in humans suggests that increased fruit consumption of pregnant mothers enhances infant cognitive development. Moreover, wild-type Drosophila supplemented with a combination of orange and tomato juice showed robust enhancements in performance on an associative olfactory memory task. The current study aimed to experimentally test the effects of prenatal fruit juice exposure in a non-human, mammalian model of learning and memory.
Across three separate birth cohorts, pregnant rats were given access to diluted tomato and orange juice (N = 2 per cohort), with control rats (N = 2 per cohort) receiving only water, in addition to standard rodent chow, throughout the duration of gestation, ending at parturition. Following weaning, male offspring were tested for learning and memory in a spatial version of the circular water maze and an auditory-cued fear-conditioning task.
All pregnant rats increased fluid and food intake over the gestational period. Fruit juice-fed pregnant rats had increased fluid intake compared to control pregnant rats. When testing progeny, there were no effects of prenatal fruit juice on spatial learning, while it appeared to impair learning in fear conditioning relative to controls. However, we measured significant enhancements in both spatial memory and conditioned fear memory in the prenatal fruit-juice group compared to controls. Measures of vigilance, in response to the conditioned cue, were increased in prenatal fruit rats compared to controls, suggesting less generalized, and more adaptive, anxiety behaviours.
Our results corroborate the human and Drosophila findings of prenatal fruit effects on behaviour, specifically that prenatal fruit juice exposure may be beneficial for early-life memory consolidation in rats.