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Does intermittent fasting during pregnancy alter the intestinal microbiome of the offspring?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr N Ashton
    Dr G Humphreys
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy is known to increase the offspring’s subsequent risk of developing a range of diseases in adult life, including emotional disorders. Recent advances in the understanding of the gut-brain axis and its potential association with the microbiome suggest that the gut microbiota may influence brain development. Alterations in the gut microbiota have been linked to changes in anxiety-like behaviour in mice. Furthermore, changes in bacterial metabolites are linked to altered behaviour and the development of autism.
One form of dietary food restriction in humans that has not been studied in detail is the case of Ramadan fasting. Although exempt, many pregnant Muslim women take part in the daily fast during the month of Ramadan. Potential long term effects on the child are not fully known, although an association between exposure to fasting in utero and an increased incidence of mental impairment in children has been reported.

Using a rat model, we have shown that maternal fasting results in impaired growth of the fetal brain which appears to affect cognitive function: short term memory was impaired markedly in rats whose mothers fasted. Using MiSeq analysis of the gut microbiota, we found that male offspring exhibited significant compositional differences in the relative abundance of members of the Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes phyla. Interestingly, the gut profiles of female offspring were unaltered.

The aim of this project is to determine the impact of intermittent fasting during pregnancy on the gut microbiota of rat offspring and its potential influence on cognitive development. The composition of the gut microbiota of male and female rat offspring from intermittently fasted and non-fasted mothers will be determined using MiSeq analysis of the 16S rRNA gene. Compositional differences in census data will be determined using R and used to assess impact on cognitive development and function.

Funding Notes

This project has a Band 3 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website. For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website. Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.


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Erny D, de Angelis ALH, Jaitin D, Wieghofer P, Staszewski O, David T, Keren-Shaul H, Mahlakoiv T, Jakobshagen K, Buch T, Schwierzeck V, Utermöhlen O, Chun E, Garrett WS, McCoy KD, Diefenbach A, Staeheli P, Stecher B, Amit I & Prinz M Host microbiota constantly control maturation and function in microglia in the CNS. Nature Neuroscience 2015; 18: 965-977

Magnusson KR, Hauck L, Jeffrey BM, Elias V, Humphrey A, Nath R, Perrone, A & Bermudez, LE Relationships between diet-related changes in gut microbiome and cognitive flexibility. Neuroscience 2015; Epub May 14th: doi 10.1016\j.neuroscience.2015.05.016

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