Maternal obesity disrupts the methionine cycle in baboon pregnancy

Peter W. Nathanielsz, Jian Yan, Ralph Green, Mark Nijland, Joshua W. Miller, Guoyao Wu, Thomas J. McDonald, Marie A. Caudill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Maternal intake of dietary methyl-micronutrients (e.g. folate, choline, betaine and vitamin B-12) during pregnancy is essential for normal maternal and fetal methionine metabolism, and is critical for important metabolic processes including those involved in developmental programming. Maternal obesity and nutrient excess during pregnancy influence developmental programming potentially predisposing adult offspring to a variety of chronic health problems. In the present study, we hypothesized that maternal obesity would dysregulate the maternal and fetal methionine cycle. To test this hypothesis, we developed a nulliparous baboon obesity model fed a high fat, high energy diet (HF-HED) prior to and during gestation, and examined methionine cycle biomarkers (e.g., circulating concentrations of homocysteine, methionine, choline, betaine, key amino acids, folate, and vitamin B-12). Animals were group housed allowing full physical activity and social interaction. Maternal prepregnancy percent body fat was 5% in controls and 19% in HF-HED mothers, while fetal weight was 16% lower in offspring of HF-HED mothers at term. Maternal and fetal homocysteine were higher, while maternal and fetal vitamin B-12 and betaine were lower in the HF-HED group. Elevations in circulating maternal folate were evident in the HF-HED group indicating impaired folate metabolism (methyl-trap) as a consequence of maternal vitamin B-12 depletion. Finally, fetal methionine, glycine, serine, and taurine were lower in the HF-HED fetuses. These data show that maternal obesity disturbs the methionine cycle in primate pregnancy, providing a mechanism for the epigenetic changes observed among obese pregnant women and suggesting diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities in human pregnancies complicated by obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12564
JournalPhysiological Reports
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Baboon
  • folate
  • maternal obesity
  • methionine cycle
  • vitamin B-12, one-carbon metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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