I found this research from Duke University, reported on by Dan Vahaba at Duke Today interesting:
While being or becoming overweight during pregnancy can have potential health risks for moms, there are also hints that it may tip the scales for their kids to develop psychiatric disorders like autism or depression, which often affects one gender more than the other.
What hasn’t been understood however is how the accumulation of fat tissue in mom might signal through the placenta in a sex-specific way and rearrange the developing offspring’s brain.
To fill this gap, Duke postdoctoral researcher Alexis Ceasrine, Ph.D., and her team in the lab of Duke psychology & neuroscience professor Staci Bilbo, Ph.D., studied pregnant mice on a high-fat diet. In findings appearing November 28 in the journal Nature Metabolism, they found that mom’s high-fat diet triggers immune cells in the developing brains of male but not female mouse pups to overconsume the mood-influencing brain chemical serotonin, leading to depressed-like behavior.
In mice the male offspring of mothers on a high-fat diet experienced a depression-like condition while the female offspring were “less social”. The finding has been confirmed in human, at least after a fashion:
To see whether this may be true of humans as well, Ceasrine teamed up with Susan Murphy, Ph.D., a Duke School of Medicine associate professor in obstetrics and gynecology, who provided placental and fetal brain tissue from a previous study. Just as the researchers observed in mice, they found that the more fat measured in human placental tissue, the less serotonin was detected in the brains of males but not females.