British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Metabolism and Metabolic Studies

Maternal undernutrition programmes atherosclerosis in the ApoE*3-Leiden mouse

Zoe Yatesa1, Elizabeth J. Tarlinga1, Simon C. Langley-Evansa1 c1 and Andrew M. Saltera1

a1 School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington, Loughborough LE12 5RD, UK


Poor quality of nutrition during fetal development is associated with adverse health outcomes in adult life. Epidemiological studies suggest that markers of fetal undernutrition are predictive of risk of the metabolic syndrome and CHD. Here we show that feeding a low-protein diet during pregnancy programmed the development of atherosclerosis in ApoE*3-Leiden mice. ApoE*3-Leiden mice carry a mutation of human ApoE*3 rendering them prone to atherosclerosis when fed a diet rich in cholesterol. It was noted that fetal exposure to protein restriction led to a greater degree of dyslipidaemia in mice when fed an atherogenic diet, with low-protein-exposed ApoE*3 mice having elevated total plasma cholesterol (34 % higher; P < 0·001) and TAG (39 % higher; P < 0·001) relative to offspring exposed to a control diet in utero. The low-protein group developed more severe atherosclerotic lesions within the aortic arch (2·61-fold greater lesion area; P < 0·001). Analysis of a targeted gene array suggested a potential role for members of the LDL receptor superfamily, along with similar programmed suppression of the mRNA expression of hepatic sterol regulatory element-binding protein-1c. This indicates that disordered lipid metabolism may play a role in the fetal programming of atherosclerosis in this model. Whereas earlier studies have shown early programming of cardiovascular risk factors, these results demonstrate for the first time that the interaction of prenatal undernutrition with a postnatal atherogenic diet increases the extent of atherosclerotic disease.

(Received March 06 2008)

(Revised July 25 2008)

(Accepted July 28 2008)

(Online publication September 10 2008)


c1 Corresponding author: Professor Simon C. Langley-Evans, fax +44 115 9516122, email


Abbreviations: LDLr, LDL receptor; LRP-1, LDL receptor-related protein 1; SREBP, sterol regulatory element-binding protein