Exposure to the hormone leptin in the womb may increase a child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a new mouse study suggests.
Leptin is secreted by fat cells. It helps maintain energy balance in the body, the study authors explained.
The findings from experiments in mice could improve understanding of how type 2 diabetes develops in children, particularly for those with obese mothers, the researchers said.
It’s important to note, however, that animal research often doesn’t produce similar results in humans.
The study was published online March 24 in the journal Cell Reports.
“We showed that exposure of the embryonic mouse brain to leptin during a key developmental period resulted in permanent alternations in the growth of neurons from the brain stem to the pancreas, resulting in long-term disturbances to the balance of insulin levels in the adult mouse,” Sebastien Bouret said in a journal news release. He’s a researcher in the developmental neuroscience program at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
The pancreas produces and releases insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar (glucose) levels. Lack of sufficient insulin can lead to diabetes.
“This breakdown in communication from the brain to the pancreas resulted in impaired glucose regulation, or homeostasis, in the adult mouse,” Bouret added.
Bouret said that babies born to obese mothers have high levels of leptin. This, he said, “might put them at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and obesity.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about diabetes.