Neonatal overfeeding during lactation rapidly and permanently misaligns the hepatic circadian rhythm and programmes adult NAFLD

Francesc Ribas-Aulinas, Silvia Ribo, Marcela Parra-Vargas, Antonio Fernández-Pérez, ... Josep C. Jimenez-Chillaron

Childhood obesity is a strong risk factor for adult obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The mechanisms that link early adiposity with late-onset chronic diseases are poorly characterised. We developed a mouse model of early adiposity through litter size reduction. Mice reared in small litters (SLs) developed obesity, insulin resistance, and hepatic steatosis during adulthood. The liver played a major role in the development of the disease.


To gain insight into the molecular mechanisms that link early development and childhood obesity with adult hepatic steatosis and insulin resistance.


We analysed the hepatic transcriptome (Affymetrix) of control and SL mice to uncover potential pathways involved in the long-term programming of disease in our model.


The circadian rhythm was the most significantly deregulated Gene Ontology term in the liver of adult SL mice. Several core clock genes, such as period 1–3 and cryptochrome 1–2, were altered in two-week-old SL mice and remained altered throughout their life course until they reached 4–6 months of age. Defective circadian rhythm was restricted to the periphery since the expression of clock genes in the hypothalamus, the central pacemaker, was normal. The period-cryptochrome genes were primarily entrained by dietary signals. Hence, restricting food availability during the light cycle only uncoupled the central rhythm from the peripheral and completely normalised hepatic triglyceride content in adult SL mice. This effect was accompanied by better re-alignment of the hepatic period genes, suggesting that they might have played a causal role in mediating hepatic steatosis in the adult SL mice. Functional downregulation of Per2 in hepatocytes in vitro confirmed that the period genes regulated lipid-related genes in part through peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (Ppara).


The hepatic circadian rhythm matures during early development, from birth to postnatal day 30. Hence, nutritional challenges during early life may misalign the hepatic circadian rhythm and secondarily lead to metabolic derangements. Specific time-restricted feeding interventions improve metabolic health in the context of childhood obesity by partially re-aligning the peripheral circadian rhythm.