The bugs that shape us: the maternal microbiome and offspring obesity

Late pregnancy is characterized by maternal inflammation, insulin and leptin resistance and it has been proposed that these changes involve the maternal gut microbiome. In these studies, we investigate how shifts in the pregnant gut microbiome affect maternal adaptation to pregnancy and impact placental and fetal development. These studies are part of our long-term goal of determining the underlying early life precipitating factors that confer an increased risk of obesity and metabolic disease in offspring of obese mothers.

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Parental macronutrient imbalances impacts on placental nutrient transfer

Maternal adaptation to pregnancy is critical for fetal growth. The placenta is the interface between the mother and fetus; it is critical for the survival of the fetus. Placental growth and development is vulnerable to the intrauterine environment, adapting to maternal signals, modifying its growth and function. Our lab studies the role of the placenta in mediating intrauterine impacts on the fetus and seeks to determine which placental signalling pathways modulate the developmental programming of offspring phenotype.

The Mothers to Babies Study (M2B)

Studies in populations experiencing vulnerability suggest that behavioural interventions can be effective in improving health but that such interventions tend to be intensive and expensive. It may be more effective therefore to intervene during pregnancy, where we will have the most benefit to the next generation. Little is known about how best to engage and support pregnant people.
The M2B Study team ​​comprises an interdisciplinary group of maternal and child health researchers, with interests in developing public health interventions that will reduce inequities in health knowledge and nutrition-related behaviour during pregnancy. In collaboration with community groups supporting pregnant women in Hamilton ON, we are developing complex behavioural interventions that use educators and health practitioners trained in Healthy Conversation Skills to engage pregnant people and people likely to become pregnant in improving their diets and lifestyles.

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Maternal nutritional impacts on offspring reproduction

The perinatal nutritional environment independently and critically impacts offspring risk of obesity and susceptibility to metabolic compromise, and altered reproductive function can now be added to this list. We have shown that fetal adaptations to perinatal adversity significantly advances puberty and impairs ovarian function in offspring. We have shown that maternal nutritient restriction induces in offspring an early ovarian aging phenotype, characterized by a loss of ovarian follicular reserve. We are now invetigating whether germ cell development impacts on long term transgenerational disease risk through epigenetic regulation of gene expression patterns really early in embryonic development.