Poor nutrition the first days of pregnancy impact the baby's brain

In mice, a protein deficit in the first days of pregnancy has repercussions on the memory of the unborn baby.

According to research recently published by Southampton University academics, a low-protein diet early in pregnancy can have a lasting effect on brain development of the unborn baby. The project, led by biologist Sandrine Willaime-Morawek, in collaboration with Professor Tom Fleming (gynecologist), is the first to clearly demonstrate that poor maternal nutrition during the early days of pregnancy in mice, known as preimplantation, may have negative effects on early brain development and long-term consequences in adults.

Poor short-term memory in adults

The article, "Mouse maternal protein restriction during preimplantation alone is permanently altered brain neuron proportion and adult short-term memory", was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). Specifically, it demonstrates that a maternal diet low in protein during the preimplantation period reduces the production of neural stem cells, so ultimately the manufacture of nerve cells in the brain. A dysfunction of the latter causes the formation of a bad memory in the short term in the adult.
Previous studies have already shown that reducing protein in the diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding can damage the baby's brain, leading to lasting effects on coordination, cognitive function, and even cardiovascular disease and schizophrenia.

Poor maternal nutrition right from conception

"Our research shows that poor maternal nutrition from conception in mice negatively affects brain development and adult memory," Willaime-Morawek summarizes. "We also show that the pre-implantation period of the fetus is the key moment that determines the adult phenotype, perhaps even more," she continues.

The mice studied, however, suffered only a slight nutritional deficit, eating only half the recommended amount of protein daily.