Early Postnatal Nutrition Determines Adult Physical Activity and Energy Expenditure in Female Mice

  1. Robert A. Waterland1,2
  1. 1Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Houston, Texas
  2. 2Department of Molecular & Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
  1. Corresponding author: Robert A. Waterland, waterland{at}
  1. G.L. and J.J.K. contributed equally to this study.


Decades of research in rodent models has shown that early postnatal overnutrition induces excess adiposity and other components of metabolic syndrome that persist into adulthood. The specific biologic mechanisms explaining the persistence of these effects, however, remain unknown. On postnatal day 1 (P1), mice were fostered in control (C) or small litters (SL). SL mice had increased body weight and adiposity at weaning (P21), which persisted to adulthood (P180). Detailed metabolic studies indicated that female adult SL mice have decreased physical activity and energy expenditure but not increased food intake. Genome-scale DNA methylation profiling identified extensive changes in hypothalamic DNA methylation during the suckling period, suggesting that it is a critical period for developmental epigenetics in the mouse hypothalamus. Indeed, SL mice exhibited subtle and sex-specific changes in hypothalamic DNA methylation that persisted from early life to adulthood, providing a potential mechanistic basis for the sustained physiological effects. Expression profiling in adult hypothalamus likewise provided evidence of widespread sex-specific alterations in gene expression. Together, our data indicate that early postnatal overnutrition leads to a reduction in spontaneous physical activity and energy expenditure in females and suggest that early postnatal life is a critical period during which nutrition can affect hypothalamic developmental epigenetics.


  • Received September 21, 2012.
  • Accepted March 21, 2013.

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