Obesity at conception programs the opioid system in the offspring brain

Nicola M. Grissom, Randolph Lyde, Lori Christ, Isaac E. Sasson, Jesselea Carlin, Alexa P. Vitins, Rebecca A. Simmons, Teresa M. Reyes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Maternal obesity during pregnancy increases the risk for offspring obesity, in part through effects on the developing brain. Previous research has shown that perinatal consumption of highly palatable foods by the mother can influence the development of offspring taste preferences and alter gene expression within the central nervous system (CNS) reward system. Opioids stimulate consumption of both fats and carbohydrates, and overconsumption of these energy dense foods increases the risk for obesity. What has remained unclear is whether this risk can be transmitted to the offspring before gestation or if it is wholly the gestational exposure that affects offspring brain development. Utilizing an embryo transfer experimental design, 2-cell embryos were obtained from obese or control dams, and transferred to obese or control gestational carriers. Expression of the mu-opioid receptor (MOR), preproenkephalin (PENK), and the dopamine transporter was evaluated in the hypothalamus and reward circuitry (ventral tegmental area, prefrontal cortex, and nucleus accumbens) in adult and late embryonic brains. Obesity before pregnancy altered expression levels of both MOR and PENK, with males relatively more affected than females. These data are the first to demonstrate that obesity at conception, in addition to during gestation, can program the brain reward system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)801-810
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NIH grants #DK062965 (RAS) and MH087978 (TMR).


  • Mu opioid receptor
  • high-fat diet
  • obesity
  • pregnancy
  • preproenkephalin
  • reward


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