• food intake;
  • metabolic programming;
  • perinatal malnutrition;
  • rat;
  • serotonin


Early malnutrition has been associated with a high risk of developing obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in adulthood. In animals, poor perinatal nutrition produces hyperphagia and persistent increased levels of serotonin (5-HT) in the brain. Inasmuch as 5-HT is directly related to the negative regulation of food intake, here we have investigated whether the anorexic effects of 5-HT are altered by protein malnutrition. Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were fed ad libitum either a control (20% protein) or a low-protein (8% protein) diet throughout pregnancy and lactation. At weaning, pups received a standard diet and at 35 days their feeding behaviour was evaluated after the administration of dl-fenfluramine (dl-FEN), an anorexic compound that blocks the reuptake of 5-HT and stimulates its release. Male offspring born to protein-restricted dams exhibited significantly decreased body weight and hyperphagia compared with controls. dl-FEN dose-dependently reduced the 1 h chow intake at the onset of the dark cycle in both control and undernourished rats. However, the hypophagic effects of dl-FEN were significantly attenuated in animals submitted perinatally to protein restriction. The stimulatory action of dl-FEN on c-fos immunoreactivity within the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus was also decreased in low-protein-fed rats. Further pharmacological analysis with selective 5-HT1B and 5-HT2C receptor agonist showed that the reduced anorexic effects of 5-HT in malnourished animals were coupled to a desensitization of 5-HT1B receptors. These observations indicate that the hyperphagia associated with metabolic programming is at least partially related to a reduced regulatory function of 5-HT on food intake.