Hypothalamus integrity and appetite regulation in low birth weight rats reared artificially on a high-protein milk formula.
ABSTRACT High-protein (HP) milk formulas are routinely used in infants born with a low birth weight (LBW) to enhance growth and ensure a better verbal IQ development. Indirect evidence points to a link between an HP intake during early life and the prevalence of obesity in later life. We hypothesized that HP milk supplementation to LBW pups during early postnatal life would impact hypothalamic appetite neuronal pathways development with consequences, at adulthood, on energy homeostasis regulation. Rat pups born with a LBW were equipped with gastrostomy tubes on the fifth day of life. They received a milk formula with either normal protein (NP, 8.7 g protein/dl) or high protein content (HP; 13.0 g protein/dl) and were subsequently weaned to a standard, solid diet at postnatal day 21. Rats that had been fed HP content milk gained more weight at adulthood associated with an increase of plasma insulin, leptin and triglycerides concentrations compared to NP rats. Screening performed on hypothalamus in development from the two groups of rats identified higher gene expression for cell proliferation and neurotrophin markers in HP rats. Despite these molecular differences, appetite neuronal projections emanating from the arcuate nucleus did not differ between the groups. Concerning feeding behavior at adulthood, rats that had been fed HP or NP milk exhibited differences in the satiety period, resting postprandial duration and nocturnal meal pattern. The consequences of HP milk supplementation after LBW will be discussed in regard to neural development and metabolic anomalies.