Evolutionary success drives continuous human adaptation. A pervasive challenge is the substantial change in the composition and nutritional value of diets available. This is particularly relevant for child-bearing women because metabolic bias through diet composition can adversely affects pregnancy outcomes. Even though clinical and experimental studies correlate maternal obesity during pregnancy (affecting ~30% world-wide) with congenital metabolic illnesses, a causal relationship between maternal obesity, impairment in neuroendocrine development and ensuing deficits in metabolic control of affected offspring is as yet missing. The hypothalamus is the neuroendocrine interface linking the brain and periphery. Thus, we hypothesize that maternal obesity could evoke permanent molecular changes in hypothalamic neurons of the offspring to compromise their plasticity and adaptive repertoire. This notion is on the backdrop of our recent success in defining, by singe-cell RNA-seq and brain-wide imaging, the developmental trajectory of neurons that build the mammalian hypothalamus, and in discovering the function of novel neuronal subtypes. Here, we will determine molecular, cellular and network-level changes in the hypothalamus of offspring born to obese mothers. We will combine single-cell RNA-seq and ATAC-seq in the same neurons to precisely catalogue permanent modifications to gene expression at successive developmental stages in mice. We will particularly interrogate molecular determinants that can impair the neuronal circuitry controlling food intake, including leptin and endocannabinoid interplay as a candidate. We will complement these data by identifying novel cellular sites of hormone secretion that shape brain and bodily architecture and are sensitive to maternal obesity. Overall, our work will produce new understanding of the life-long consequences of metabolic programming of the developing brain.
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