BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Publications by Neuroscience Graduate Students: John Krzeczkowski

AUTHOR: John Krzeczkowski

Maternal obesity in pregnancy can negatively effect offspring brain development, but does the mother’s prenatal diet play a role? Take a look at a new study published by Neuroscience Graduate Program student John Krzeczkowski, and two of our faculty (Khrista Boylan and Ryan Van Lieshout).

We are all well aware of the significant impact of mental disorders on individuals and their families. In our interdisciplinary program, each of us plays an important role in unlocking the secrets of the brain, which we hope will lead to novel and innovative treatments that reduce the impact of these disorders. I have directed my efforts toward testing the developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis (DOHaD) as it pertains to mental disorders. This hypothesis posits that prenatal and early postnatal conditions have the ability to shape the development of the brain and can increase the risk for mental disorders across the lifespan.


Recently, we published a paper in Early Human Development that attempted to address an important gap in the DOHaD literature, that of unmeasured confounding variables. Currently, many studies have shown that infants and children exposed to maternal obesity and gestational diabetes prenatally are at greater risk for cognitive problems later in life; however, no studies have examined the role that maternal diet in pregnancy, a potential important (and modifiable) confounder, plays in these associations. Therefore, we examined associations between exposure to maternal obesity, gestational diabetes and offspring cognitive problems before and after adjusting for confounding variables including overall prenatal diet quality. In agreement with the current evidence in the field, we found that both prenatal maternal obesity and gestational diabetes predicted more cognitive problems in offspring at 3 years of age; however, these links were no longer significant following adjustment for confounding variables. Interestingly, we found that prenatal diet had an important role in these links.


In summary, we found that: 1) prenatal maternal obesity and diabetes are not associated with offspring cognitive problems after adjusting for confounding variables.2) maternal diet quality in pregnancy confounds these links, and 3) the size of the effect of prenatal maternal diet on offspring cognition is similar in magnitude to more traditional risk factors for offspring cognitive problems (maternal postpartum depression and socioeconomic status).


Given the significant preventive potential of the DOHaD hypothesis for neuropsychiatric disease, we believe that this work should encourage future studies to examine if optimizing maternal diet during pregnancy can improve offspring neurodevelopment.


My PhD work is currently investigating this question as part of the CIHR-funded Be Healthy in Pregnancy (BHIP) randomized controlled trial, where we are comparing cognition and emotion regulatory capacity in the children born to women that received a state-of-the-art diet+exercise intervention in pregnancy and the children of women that received pregnancy care as usual. We hope that this research has the potential to inform large-scale public health interventions designed to optimize brain development early in life and get children and young families off to the best start possible.


The link to the full article can be found here