Newswise — Rockville, Md. (May 7, 2020)—A new study suggests that treating a breastfeeding parent with a common diabetes drug may provide male offspring lifelong protection against diabetes and obesity. The study is published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism. It was chosen as an APSselect article for May.

Studies have shown that maternal stress during pregnancy can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in offspring. Overnutrition—excess consumption of food that may not be nutritionally balanced—in the mother may also increase a child’s health risks during the lactational period after birth, as research suggests that a baby’s weight gain during the early weeks of life has been associated with a higher incidence of obesity.

In some countries, metformin—a medication commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes—is prescribed during pregnancy to people who are at risk of having lactation problems. The drug was also studied for its ability to improve production of milk, but infant outcomes were not studied beyond the first month of life. In a new study, researchers wanted to learn if metformin exposure may be able to improve long-term metabolic health for infants at risk for diabetes.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Miami studied the offspring of mice treated with metformin immediately after giving birth and through the lactational period and compared them with the offspring of an untreated control group. All metformin exposure stopped at weaning. After exposure ceased, from infancy through adulthood, mice had improved glucose tolerance and in males, less abdominal fat. Females born to metformin-treated mothers also had better glucose tolerance, but body changes such as a decrease in fat tissue did not occur until adulthood. Exposure to the drug protected offspring of both sexes from diet-induced metabolic disorders in adulthood.

The cause of these changes is still unclear. “Future studies will focus on understanding how metformin causes these changes, whether indirectly through changes in milk composition, through changes in the colonization of the infant intestinal microbiome or through direct action on the offspring intestine or liver,” the research team wrote.

Read the full article, “Lactational metformin exposure programs offspring white adipose tissue glucose homeostasis and resilience to metabolic stress in a sex-dependent manner,” published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism. It is highlighted as one of this month’s “best of the best” as part of the American Physiological Society’s APSselect program. Read all of this month’s selected research articles.                                                                                                   

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: To schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact the APS Communications Office or call 301.634.7314. Find more research highlights in our News Room.

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents 9,000 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.

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