Perinatal Nutrition and Programmed Risk for Neuropsychiatric Disorders: A Focus on Animal Models

  • Author Footnotes
    1 MD and JRT contributed equally to this work.
    Madison DeCapo
    1 MD and JRT contributed equally to this work.
    Division of Neuroscience, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Beaverton

    Division of Cardiometabolic Health, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Beaverton
    Search for articles by this author
  • Author Footnotes
    1 MD and JRT contributed equally to this work.
    Jacqueline R. Thompson
    1 MD and JRT contributed equally to this work.
    Division of Neuroscience, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Beaverton

    Division of Cardiometabolic Health, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Beaverton
    Search for articles by this author
  • Geoffrey Dunn
    Department of Human Physiology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
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  • Elinor L. Sullivan
    Address correspondence to Elinor L. Sullivan, Ph.D., Department of Human Physiology, University of Oregon, 1240 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403.
    Division of Neuroscience, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Beaverton

    Division of Cardiometabolic Health, Oregon National Primate Research Center, Beaverton

    Department of Human Physiology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
    Search for articles by this author
  • Author Footnotes
    1 MD and JRT contributed equally to this work.


      Maternal nutrition is critically important for fetal development. Recent human studies demonstrate a strong connection between diet during pregnancy and offspring risk for neuropsychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Animal models have emerged as a crucial tool for understanding maternal nutrition’s contribution to prenatal programming and the later development of neuropsychiatric disorders. This review highlights preclinical studies examining how maternal consumption of the three macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) influence offspring negative-valence behaviors relevant to neuropsychiatric disorders. We highlight the translational aspects of animal models and so examine exposure periods that mirror the neurodevelopmental stages of human gestation. Because of our emphasis on programmed changes in neurobehavioral development, studies that continue diet exposure until assessment in adulthood are not discussed. The presented research provides a strong foundation of preclinical evidence of nutritional programming of neurobehavioral impairments. Alterations in risk assessment and response were observed alongside neurodevelopmental impairments related to neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, and synaptic plasticity. To date, the large majority of studies utilized rodent models, and the field could benefit from additional study of large-animal models. Additional future directions are discussed, including the need for further studies examining how sex as a biological variable affects the contribution of maternal nutrition to prenatal programming.


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