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Impact of maternal intermittent fasting on cognitive development

Project Description

Many pregnant Muslim women take part in the daily fast during the month of Ramadan, even though they are exempt. The long term effects on the child are not fully known; however an association between exposure to fasting in utero and an increased incidence of mental impairment in children has been shown. Such outcomes may be related to nutrient-modifiable events that occur in utero during development of the baby.

We have developed a rat model of intermittent fasting during pregnancy, to mimic aspects of Ramadan fasting. Maternal fasting results in smaller fetuses with reduced head circumferences and lighter placentas. We have shown that this fasting regimen adversely affects cognitive function and social behaviour. In particular, when learning and memory were assessed by a novel object recognition test, offspring whose mother fasted intermittently during pregnancy showed a marked impairment in memory with sex-dependent differences apparent.

The aim of the proposed project is to determine the effect of maternal intermittent fasting during pregnancy on the development of cognitive function in relation to offspring sex. The first phase of the project will explore behavioural effects and their neurochemical correlates. Performance in tests of several cognitive domains, social processes and positive valence systems will be studied in addition to anxiety related behaviours.

The second phase will investigate how intermittent fasting during different stages of gestation impacts on behavioural effects in the offspring, and whether this relates to expression of neurodevelopmental markers. Maternofetal flux of nutrients and maternal-fetal nutrient status will be measured during each fasting phase and morphology of the placenta and fetal brain examined. Function of the yolk sac, which provides nutrients to the developing fetus in early pregnancy, will be examined.

This project interfaces with our current ongoing studies investigating how maternal intermittent fasting during pregnancy influences offspring metabolism, physiology and function.

Training/techniques to be provided:

This project will employ a variety of in vivo and in vitro techniques to investigate the project objectives. Training will be provided in a range of behavioural and cognitive analyses in rodents, such as working memory, attention, executive function, social cognition, communication, approach motivation and anxiety related behaviours. Training in in vitro methodology will include molecular and biochemical techniques such PCR, immunoblotting, immunohistochemistry, enzyme activity and transporter assays.

The project will involve the use of laboratory rats; therefore applicants must be comfortable with the use of animals in biomedical research. Full training will be provided and the successful candidate will be expected to pass a Home Office personal licensee training course.

Funding Notes

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant behavioural science, biological/medical science, molecular biology or related discipline. A Masters qualification in a similar area and/or previous research experience would be advantageous. Candidates with experience of in vivo studies are encouraged to apply.

This project has a Band 3 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit ourwebsite (View Website).

Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.

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