Exposure to high fructose corn syrup during adolescence in the mouse alters hepatic metabolism and the microbiome in a sex‐specific manner
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KEY POINTS: The prevalence of obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children is dramatically increasing at the same time as consumption of foods with a high sugar content. Intake of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a possible aetiology as it is thought to be more lipogenic than glucose. In a mouse model, HFCS intake during adolescence increased fat mass and hepatic lipid levels in male and female mice. However, only males showed impaired glucose tolerance. Multiple metabolites including lipids, bile acids, carbohydrates and amino acids were altered in liver in a sex-specific manner at 6 weeks of age. Some of these changes were also present in adulthood even though HFCS exposure ended at 6 weeks. HFCS significantly altered the gut microbiome, which was associated with changes in key microbial metabolites. These results suggest that HFCS intake during adolescence has profound metabolic changes that are linked to changes in the microbiome and these changes are sex-specific. ABSTRACT: The rapid increase in obesity, diabetes and fatty liver disease in children over the past 20 years has been linked to increased consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), making it essential to determine the short- and long-term effects of HFCS during this vulnerable developmental window. We hypothesized that HFCS exposure during adolescence significantly impairs hepatic metabolic signalling pathways and alters gut microbial composition, contributing to changes in energy metabolism with sex-specific effects. C57bl/6J mice with free access to HFCS during adolescence (3-6 weeks of age) underwent glucose tolerance and body composition testing and hepatic metabolomics, gene expression and triglyceride content analysis at 6 and 30 weeks of age (n = 6-8 per sex). At 6 weeks HFCS-exposed mice had significant increases in fat mass, glucose intolerance, hepatic triglycerides (females) and de novo lipogenesis gene expression (ACC, DGAT, FAS, ChREBP, SCD, SREBP, CPT and PPARα) with sex-specific effects. At 30 weeks, HFCS-exposed mice also had abnormalities in glucose tolerance (males) and fat mass (females). HFCS exposure enriched carbohydrate, amino acid, long chain fatty acid and secondary bile acid metabolism at 6 weeks with changes in secondary bile metabolism at 6 and 30 weeks. Microbiome studies performed immediately before and after HFCS exposure identified profound shifts of microbial species in male mice only. In summary, short-term HFCS exposure during adolescence induces fatty liver, alters important metabolic pathways, some of which continue to be altered in adulthood, and changes the microbiome in a sex-specific manner.
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