Impact of perinatal exposure to sucrose or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS-55) on adiposity and hepatic lipid composition in rat offspring

Carla R. Toop, Beverly S. Muhlhausler, Kerin O'Dea, Sheridan Gentili

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Citations (Scopus)


Key points: Fructose-containing sugars, including sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), have been implicated in the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Few studies have evaluated the impact of perinatal exposure to these sugars on metabolic and physiological outcomes in the offspring. Using a rat model, offspring exposed to a maternal sucrose or HFCS diet during the prenatal and/or suckling periods were found to have altered adiposity and liver fat content and composition at weaning. Plasma levels of free fatty acids remained elevated in young adulthood, but consumption of a control diet following weaning appeared to ameliorate most other effects of perinatal exposure to a maternal high-sugar diet. Guidelines for maternal nutrition should advise limiting consumption of fructose-containing sugars, and it is particularly important that these recommendations include maternal nutrition during lactation. Abstract: Perinatal exposure to excess maternal intake of added sugars, including fructose and sucrose, is associated with an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in adult life. However, it is unknown to what extent the type of sugar and the timing of exposure affect these outcomes. The aim of this study was to determine the impact of exposure to maternal consumption of a 10% (w/v) beverage containing sucrose or high fructose corn syrup-55 (HFCS-55) during the prenatal and/or suckling periods on offspring at 3 and 12 weeks, utilising a cross-fostering approach in a rodent model. Perinatal sucrose exposure decreased plasma glucose concentrations in offspring at 3 weeks, but did not alter glucose tolerance. Increased adiposity was observed in 3-week-old offspring exposed to sucrose or HFCS-55 during suckling, with increased hepatic fat content in HFCS-55-exposed offspring. In terms of specific fatty acids, hepatic monounsaturated (omega-7 and -9) fatty acid content was elevated at weaning, and was most pronounced in sucrose offspring exposed during both the prenatal and suckling periods, and HFCS-55 offspring exposed during suckling only. By 12 weeks, the effects on adiposity and hepatic lipid composition were largely normalised. However, exposure to either sucrose or HFCS-55 during the prenatal period only was associated with elevated plasma free fatty acids at weaning, and this effect persisted until 12 weeks. This study suggests that the type of sugar and the timing of exposure (prenatal or suckling periods) are both important for determining the impact on metabolic health outcomes in the offspring.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4379-4398
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • developmental programming
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • sucrose

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology

Cite this