A growing body of evidence is showing that obesity during pregnancy affects the long-term cardiovascular health of the children. For example, a study by our colleagues at the Tommy’s centre in Edinburgh found that the children of obese mothers have an increased risk of early death from cardiovascular events. The UPBEAT-TEMPO study is continuing to explore these links.
To help this work, we studied mice to explore how obesity in a mother can affect her children. We found that the offspring develop high blood pressure at a young age, before they become obese. This may be related to a surge in a hormone called leptin at birth. This is a hormone made by cells in fatty tissue, that helps us to feel full after a meal. We have recently shown that the kidneys are also affected, and that the effect on blood pressure may be related to this. We are now trying to find out why this is. We have found that a particular receptor - something on the surface of a cell that responds to specific signals - called the melanocortin 4 receptor is important. We are beginning to understand what role this receptor plays in a child's response to maternal obesity.
This research has been important in terms of the follow-up of the children from the UPBEAT study: in the UPBEAT-TEMPO study we are looking at the relationships between maternal obesity, the levels of leptin in the umbilical cord at birth, and the child’s blood pressure. We are also looking at early markers of kidney disease from birth to adulthood and the activity of part of the nervous system that might be involved.
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