Weight Maternal obesity increases the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma through the transmission of an altered gut microbiome (Mar 2024, mice)

Michael Harrop

Active member
Jul 6, 2023


  • Obese mothers transmit an altered microbiome to their offspring which persists until adulthood
  • Maternal obesity increased steatosis, fibrosis and liver inflammation in offspring
  • Offspring of obese mothers exhibit a higher risk to develop liver cancer
  • Co-housing offspring of obese and lean mothers restores the gut microbiome and normalizes the liver cancer risk
  • Abundance of Erysipelotrichaceae and Lachnospiraceae bacteria correlate with tumor load, Akkermansiaceae with liver inflammation


Background & Aims​

Emerging evidence suggests that maternal obesity negatively impacts the health of offspring. Additionally, obesity is a risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Our study aims to investigate the impact of maternal obesity on the risk for HCC development in offspring and elucidate the underlying transmission mechanisms.


Female mice were fed either a high-fat diet (HFD) or a normal diet (ND). All offspring received a ND after weaning. We studied liver histology and tumor load in a N-diethylnitrosamine (DEN) induced HCC mouse model.


Maternal obesity induced a distinguishable shift in gut microbial composition. At 40 weeks female offspring of HFD mothers developed steatosis (9.43 vs 3.09%, p=0.0023), fibrosis (3.75 vs 2.70%, p=0.039), an increased number of inflammatory infiltrates (4.8 vs 1.0, p=0.018) and a higher expression of genes involved in fibrosis and inflammation compared to ND offspring. A higher proportion of female HFD offspring developed liver tumors after DEN induction (79.8 vs 37.5%, p=0.0084) with a higher mean tumor volume (234 vs 3 μm3, p=0.0041). Offspring of HFD mothers had a significantly less diverse microbiota than ND offspring (Shannon Index 2.56 vs. 2.92, p=0.0089), which was rescued through co-housing. In the principal component analysis, the microbiota profile of co-housed animals clustered together, regardless of maternal diet. Co-housing of HFD offspring with ND offspring normalized their tumor load.


Maternal obesity increases the susceptibility to develop HCC in female offspring. The transmission of an altered gut microbiome plays an important role in this increased predisposition.
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