Maternal obesity in sheep impairs foetal hepatic mitochondrial respiratory chain capacity

Teresa L. Serafim, Teresa Cunha-Oliveira, Claudia M. Deus, Vilma A. Sardão, Ines M. Cardoso, Shanshan Yang, John F. Odhiambo, Adel B. Ghnenis, Ashley M. Smith, Junfei Li, Peter W. Nathanielsz, Stephen P. Ford, Paulo J. Oliveira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Changes in the nutritional environment in utero induced by maternal obesity (MO) lead to foetal metabolic dysfunction predisposing offspring to later-life metabolic diseases. Since mitochondria play a crucial role in hepatic metabolism and function, we hypothesized that MO prior to conception and throughout pregnancy programmes foetal sheep liver mitochondrial phenotype. Material and methods: Ewes ate an obesogenic diet (150% requirements; MO), or 100% requirements (CTR), from 60 days prior to conception. Foetal livers were removed at 0.9 gestation. We measured foetal liver mitochondrial DNA copy number, activity of superoxide dismutase, cathepsins B and D and selected protein content, total phospholipids and cardiolipin and activity of mitochondrial respiratory chain complexes. Results: A significant decrease in activities of mitochondrial complexes I, II-III and IV, but not aconitase, was observed in MO. In the antioxidant machinery, there was a significant increase in activity of total superoxide dismutase (SOD) and SOD2 in MO. However, no differences were found regarding autophagy-related protein content (p62, beclin-I, LC3-I, LC3-II and Lamp2A) and cathepsin B and D activities. A 21.5% decrease in total mitochondrial phospholipid was observed in MO. Conclusions: The data indicate that MO impairs foetal hepatic mitochondrial oxidative capacity and affects total mitochondrial phospholipid content. In addition, MO affects the regulation of foetal liver redox pathways, indicating metabolic adaptations to the higher foetal lipid environment. Consequences of in utero programming of foetal hepatic metabolism may persist and compromise mitochondrial bioenergetics in later life, and increase susceptibility to metabolic diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13375
JournalEuropean Journal of Clinical Investigation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • maternal obesity
  • metabolic programming
  • mitochondrial bioenergetics
  • mitochondrial phospholipids
  • oxidative stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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