Maternal exposures during pregnancy can influence the physiology and development of a woman’s child. But scientists aren’t sure whether this influence extends across generations. A new study in worms suggests that consuming ursolic acid – a bioactive compound found in apples and herbs, such as rosemary and sage – during pregnancy promotes the production of key fats in the brain, boosting neuronal health and function in progeny.
Researchers studied the effects of ursolic acid supplementation in roundworms – a well-established model of human genetics. They fed the worms ursolic acid and assessed its effects on subsequent generations.
They found that the worms' neural transport processes (similar to synaptic connectivity in vertebrates) were more efficient after consuming ursolic acid. The worms also demonstrated reduced susceptibility to axonal fragility in adulthood. Interestingly, these benefits transcended a singular generation, manifesting within subsequent progeny.
The mechanism driving these effects centered around the modulation of sphingosine-1-phosphate, a bioactive metabolite of sphingolipid – a type of fat implicated in neural protection. The offspring of worms that consumed ursolic acid demonstrated elevated sphingosine-1-phosphate levels, thereby conveying neural protection across multiple generations.
These findings suggest that dietary-acquired lipid metabolites can provide neuroprotection across generations. They also underscore the importance of maternal nutrition during pregnancy. Learn about other aspects of maternal (and paternal) health that influence offspring in this clip featuring Dr. Elissa Epel.
The science digest is a special email we send out just twice per month to members of our premium community. It covers in-depth science on familiar FoundMyFitness related topics.
If you're interested in trying out a few issues for free, enter your email below or click here to learn more about the benefits of premium membership here.