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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Related Topics


Location: Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center

2013 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
Dietary factors may significantly impact long-term human health during adult life as a result of the influences on early developmental events. Certain common dietary factors appear to be capable of affecting growth and development; transiently and permanently altering metabolism; influencing body composition; and preventing some diseases. For example, fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk contain natural compounds (phytochemicals, peptides, and proteins) that can alter development, physiology, and metabolism, which can ultimately lead to disease prevention and phenotypic changes. Additionally isoflavones are particularly concentrated in soybeans and can have many of the same actions as the major female hormones in women, the estrogens. Countries with regular consumption of large amounts of soy foods report lower incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity; and factors in soy (isoflavones and peptides) are postulated as being partially responsible. The objectives of our research include: 1) determine the effects of diet and physical activity in humans and animal models on development and organ function; 2) determine how early exposure to soy proteins and fruits confers resistance to chronic diseases such as mammary cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes in later adult life; 3) evaluate multiple molecular mechanisms and identify bioactive components for chronic disease prevention by diets using appropriate models as measured by tumor suppressors and oncogenes; oxidative modification; inflammation; immunomodulation; and insulin sensitivity; 4) examine consequences of early intake of combinations of foods (soy, fruits) on chronic disease prevention, organ development and signaling pathways, relative to dietary intake of a single food; 5) investigate the mechanisms of maternal obesity-induced fetal programming; 6) examine the impact of type and amount of dietary macronutrient components on development of obesity and associated metabolic sequence in an animal model of pediatric total enteral nutrition and in clinical studies; 7) identify the potential of dietary factors for mitigating risk of obesity via nutritional programming; and 8) determine the effects of genetic and epigenetic interactions with diet, nutritional status, weight gain, and behavior during gestation on placental and offspring development, health and susceptibility to chronic diseases, including obesity. It is essential to ascertain the long-term health consequences, both positive and negative, of early consumption of these phytochemicals since it may impact a major segment of our American population.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Studies will focus on the various dietary factors found in foods commonly consumed by children, such as infant formula, fruits, rice, milk, and soy, to determine their long-term health effects in infants and children. We will analyze how the early exposure to protein sources and fruits normally consumed by infants and children prevents the initiation of and protects against chronic diseases by altering tissue differentiation, inflammation, and/or oxidative status. We will use animal models to mechanistically address the molecular and cellular pathways regulated by intake of various dietary factors (such as in soy foods, berries, grains and milk) in mammary tissue, aorta, liver, adipose tissue, pancreas, and skeletal muscle; identify tissue and serum biomarkers of healthy status associated with these diets; and provide new molecular targets and processes underlying chronic diseases that may be influenced by proper nutrition. Additional work will be undertaken in an observational study of infants from birth to age 6 years, The Beginnings Study. Breast-fed, milk formula-fed, and soy formula-fed children are studied for growth, development, body composition, and metabolism. In addition, bone development, and immune system development and function will be studied in children, and animal models will be utilized to explore molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of early dietary exposures. The rat model will be used to understand the parental genetic transmission of the susceptibility to high fat feeding to future generations and underlying molecular, biochemical, and endocrine mechanisms, in the offspring. Work will be accomplished by evaluating critical periods of development and vulnerable stages of life (i.e. the nutritional status of women at the moment of conception; nutritional and developmental issues during pregnancy and lactation) and the development of eating behaviors during childhood, adolescence, and later stages of life.

3. Progress Report:
Significant progress was made on all objectives of this project through the established Specific Cooperative Agreement. Please see 6251-51000-007-04S for the detailed FY13 Progress Report.

4. Accomplishments
1. Body fat and bone accrual profiles differ for breast-fed and formula-fed infants. Breast feeding has been reported to have several developmental effects that are beneficial to child health and perhaps adult health. However, few studies have documented the differential effects of breast and formula feeding (or between different formula types) using modern technology for analysis of body composition. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, have studied fat mass and bone mineral content in 207 infants during the first year of life. They found unique total body fat (% body fat mass) profiles whereby breastfed infants were significantly fatter than formula-fed infants until about age 9 months. Furthermore, infants fed soy formula were leaner and accumulated bone and body length faster than breast-fed or milk formula-fed infants. The long-term consequences of the rather dramatic and unique profiles early in life are unknown, but because neonatal programming of metabolism is thought to be of great importance to childhood and adult health, these results provide a basis upon which to conduct further studies.

2. The effects of body fat mass on psychological behavior measures. Psychomotor development is highly correlated with brain development and function. Although mental development has been reported to be impaired in obese children, less is known about psychomotor development in obesity. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock used the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (psychomotor developmental index) and dual X-ray absorptiometry to study the relationship of body fat to psychomotor development. They found that greater fat mass and overweight status were associated with lower motor development in early childhood, although the overall mean scores remained within normal limits. These results provide significant evidence that increasing body fat in children can lead to impaired gross motor skills, and since this is also correlated to cognitive skills, future interventions to reduce pediatric obesity should be considered to maximize child development.

3. New biomarkers for monitoring the effects of environmental estrogens. Although there are many potentially estrogenic compounds in our environment (ranging from pesticides and pollutants to phytoestrogens in some plant foods) that might have reproductive toxicity or increase the risk of some cancers, there are few good biomarkers available to measure the full range of estrogenic actions in whole animal studies. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, have studied the dose-dependent effects of estrogen treatment on structure and gene expression in the immature breast tissue of male and female rats. They found that the immature male mammary gland is exquisitely sensitive to estrogen treatment which produced structural changes and a pattern of gene expression associated with increased cell division at very low doses. These changes represent new sensitive biomarkers of in vivo estrogenic actions in a reproductive tissue and can be utilized for the toxicological screening of new compounds, environmental samples and foodstuffs. This is an important discovery that should greatly improve the ability to identify relevant environmental estrogens.

4. Soy protein has minimal estrogenic actions on the adult mammary gland. There is considerable controversy over the potential for phytochemicals associated with soybased food products (particularly isoflavones, such as genistein) to have estrogenic effects that might result in reproductive toxicity or increased cancer risk (e.g., breast cancer). Yet, few studies have actually compared the effects of estrogens and soy foods directly in target tissues, such as the mammary gland. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, addressed the question "is Soy Protein Isolate (SPI) estrogenic" by directly comparing the effects of the major natural estrogen 17-beta estradiol (E2) and SPI, the sole protein source in soy infant formulas, on mammary gland structure and gene expression in adult female rats. Whereas E2 significantly changed mammary structure and increased cell division pathways linked to breast cancer, SPI had no effect on mammary structure and only minimal effects on gene expression. Moreover, the combination of SPI and E2 resulted in a blunting of E2 effects. These data suggest that SPI has minimal estrogenic properties and actually acts as an anti-estrogen in the adult mammary tissue. These observations are consistent with epidemiological studies suggesting that eating soy foods reduces rather than increases the risk of breast cancer or its reoccurrence.

5. Diets rich in olive oil do not promote the progression of fatty liver disease. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is currently the number one cause of liver transplants in children and is associated with overconsumption of high fat diets and obesity. Few studies have compared the effects of different dietary fat types on progression of simple fatty liver to NAFLD to more serious pathology, including development of inflammation and fibrosis with reduced liver function (known as NASH). Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, have demonstrated that overfeeding rats diets rich in olive oil resulted in fatty liver that did not progress to liver injury, whereas diets made with corn oil did progress to severe liver injury. These studies suggest that even when high fat diets are eaten in excess sufficient to produce obesity, monounsaturated fats can protect the liver. This provides additional evidence that a Mediterranean diet, high in olive oil, is health beneficial.

6. Blueberries prevent bone cell death and bone resorption. Recent studies have shown that blueberries have powerful effects to increase bone thickness and quality when consumed during early development and can increase the formation of new bone cells. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, have uncovered new mechanisms whereby blueberries improve bone quality. They found that blueberries and phytochemicals from blueberries inhibit the development of osteoclasts (cells that eat away bone) and prevent cell death of osteoblasts (cells that make bone). These studies are part of a research program designed to learn how early diet can optimize development and prevent adult diseases and have revealed new targets for novel diet-derived neutraceuticals that can be used to prevent degenerative bone diseases such as osteoporosis.

7. Molecular pathways regulate fat accumulation and development of fatty liver disease. It is known that sex steroids such as the primary female hormone (estradiol) play a role in the regulation of fat accumulation and that removal of sex steroids by menopause or castration increases fat mass. In addition, it has recently been shown that development of obesity is accompanied by appearance of oxidative stress and low grade inflammation in the fat tissue. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, have demonstrated that young developing female mice lacking a key protein (P47phox) required for the activity of a member of the NADPH-oxidase (NOX) family of enzymes to generate oxidative stress do not become obese, and neither males or female develop fatty liver when fed a high fat diets. These studies provide new fundamental insights into the control of fat metabolism and storage, and have uncovered potential new targets for developing a prevention strategy for obesity and fatty liver disease.

8. Soy protects bone from the effects of obesity. Recent studies have suggested that diets containing soy foods can improve glucose tolerance by increasing insulin sensitization in animals fed high fat diets, and this may prevent the development of metabolic syndrome. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, have now shown that the previously observed insulin sensitizing effects of soy: 1) extend to bone cells and other non-liver tissues; and 2) reversal of insulin resistance in bone contributes to the protection soy diets provide toward preventing obesity-associated bone loss. Furthermore, the researchers were able to show that the effects of soy diets on bone cells were at least in part associated with phytochemicals found in soy called isoflavones. These data suggest that soy foods and dietary isoflavone supplements may improve bone quality in addition to reducing blood sugar in obese individuals.

9. The effects of soy protein and the soy isoflavone genistein on mammary gland fat cells. Fat cells (adipocytes) are thought to play an important role in breast cancer development and progression. Consumption of soy foods is associated with lower breast cancer rates and lower body fat, but the relationship between soy consumption, mammary gland fat content, and breast cancer has not been established. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, found that diets containing soy protein or the soy phytochemical genistein blocked fat cell formation, reduced mammary gland fat content, increased molecules known as tumor suppressors, and blocked cancer-stem cells from progressing toward a cancerous condition in cell culture. These results suggest a potential mechanism by which soy can help prevent breast cancer and may result in the development of a strategy to help prevent the initiation of breast cancer.

10. Soy beans may act to prevent breast cancer. Breast cancer is one of the major chronic diseases of women, and prevention of this disease is much preferred to treatment. Soy food consumption is associated with lower breast cancer rates, but the identity of the active components within soy is still unclear. Two potentially important factors in soybeans are a 43 amino acid peptide (lunasin) and a soy isoflavone (genistein), each of which has been reported to be potential cancer preventive agents. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, have studied these compounds to determine if they act through the same mechanisms. Results from this study suggest different mechanisms of action, but the combination of both factors provided increased death (apoptosis) to malignant and non-malignant mammary epithelial cell, actions that are thought to be important in prevention of breast cancer. These results provide potentially important information to help support the use of soy foods in the development of a healthy lifestyle regimen for women at high risk of developing breast cancer. These data also demonstrate that the health effects of food and diets are the result of additive or synergistic actions of many separate food components (phytochemicals, peptides, etc.), and may not be replicated by supplements made from an individual or even several bioactive components.

11. Maternal blueberry consumption may program mammary gland development and risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer is one of the major chronic diseases of women, and environmental exposure (e.g., to dietary factors) is an area of intense research to find either causes or preventions to this disease. Researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, have been studying blueberries because they have been shown to affect metabolism of several organs, including the mammary gland, and these actions could lead to a strategy to prevent breast cancer. They found that maternal consumption of a blueberry-containing diet during pregnancy and lactation reduced tumor size in the mammary gland of offspring genetically predisposed to mammary gland cancer in association with lower serum concentrations of insulin which may also act as a tumor growth factor. Results from this study add to previous results showing how diet can be an important factor in disease prevention. There is an expectation that this can help lead to a dietary strategy that helps reduce breast cancer risks in the future.

12. Saturated fatty acids can lead to inflammation of the placenta. Obesity is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation, which contributes to cellular dysfunction promoting metabolic disease in the offspring. Using an established cell culture model of placental cells, obesity researchers at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, studied the mechanisms by which saturated fatty acids induce inflammation in placenta. These investigators found that saturated fatty acid treatment predominantly altered expression of genes that led to increased inflammation and immediate-early response. These results in cell culture shed new light on how saturated fatty acids and high fat diets may contribute to the development of placental inflammation and dysfunction, and provide an underlying basis for more in-depth studies of human placentas to increase our understanding of how mothers may influence long-term health of their offspring.

13. Maternal obesity is associated with increased inflammation of placentas. Obesity during pregnancy leads to a placental inflammation; however, the underlying causes for obesity-induced placental inflammation in women remain unclear. Recent work in animals by scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, suggests that obese women can program metabolism of their offspring and this may be liked to inflammation. To determine the extent to which inflammatory processes of obese women differed from that of lean women from the Glowing study, metabolic pathways known to produce inflammation were studied in placentas from term pregnancies. Researchers were able to determine that placental inflammation is orchestrated differently by key proteins in placentas from obese women than in lean women, and this may play a role in maternal programming of fetal metabolism.

14. Excess caloric intake recognized as a major source of toxicity. Now that the American Medical Association has declared that obesity is a disease, significantly more attention is being paid to the mechanisms underlying obesity development. There is a need to educate trainees and professionals in both industry and government in the current science underlying obesity. Scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, are at the forefront of new research into molecular mechanisms underlying increased fat accumulation and the health consequences of obesity and were asked to write a new chapter in the sixth edition of the textbook "Casarett & Doull's Toxicology" on the toxic effects of excess calories. This book is the major textbook used by graduate programs in toxicology in the U.S. and is the text used for Board Certification in Toxicology by professionals in industry and government worldwide. Addition of a new chapter on obesity represents recognition that this is a new field of research for the toxicology community and recognition that the ACNC is a leader in this area.

Review Publications
Mercer, K.E., Wynne, R., Lazarenko, O., Lumpkin, C.K., Hogue, W.R., Suva, L.J., Chen, J., Badger, T.M., Ronis, M.J. 2012. Vitamin D supplementation protects against bone loss associated with chronic alcohol administration in female mice. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 343(2):401-412.

Crook, T., Armbya, N., Cleves, M., Badger, T.M., Andres, A. 2012. Air displacement plethysmography, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, and total body water to evaluate body composition in preschool-age children. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 112(12):1993-1998.

Xie, C., Kang, J., Li, Z., Schauss, A.G., Badger, T.M., Nagarajan, S., Wu, T., Wu, X. 2012. The acai flavonoid velutin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent: Blockade of LPS-mediated TNF-alpha and IL-6 production through inhibiting NF-kappa B activation and MAPK pathway. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 23(9):1184-1191.

Neville, M.C., Anderson, S.M., McManaman, J.L., Badger, T.M., Bunik, M., Contractor, N., Crume, T., Dabelea, D., Donovan, S.M., Forman, N., Frank, D.N., Friedman, J.E., German, J.B., Goldman, A., Hadsell, D., Hambidge, M., Hinde, K., Horseman, N.D., Hovey, R.C., Janoff, E., Drebs, N.F., Lebrilla, C.B., Leman, D.G., Maclean, P.S., Meier, P., Morrow, A.L., Neu, J., Nommsen-Rivers, L.A., Raiten, D.J., Rijnkels, M., Seewaldt, V., Shur, B.D., Vanhouten, J., Williamson, P. 2012. Lactation and neonatal nutrition: Defining and refining the critical questions. Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia. 17(2):167-188.

Ronis, M.J.J. 2013. Molecular mechanisms underlying the actions of dietary factors on the skeleton. In: Watson, R.R., Preedy, V.R., editors. Bioactive Foods as Dietary Interventions of the Aging Population. Elsevier Ltd., U.K. p. 421-432.

Alekel, D.L., Weaver, C.M., Ronis, M.J., Ward, W.E. 2013. Nutritional influences on bone health and overview of methods. In: Watson, R.R., Preedy, V.R., editors. Bioactive Foods as Dietary Interventions for the Aging Population. Elsevier Ltd., Oxford, U.K. p. 357-370.

Pabona, J.M., Dave, B., Su, Y., Montales, T.M., Delumen, B.O., Mejia, E., Rahal, O., Simmen, R.C. 2012. The soybean peptide lunasin promotes apoptosis of mammary epithelial cells via induction of tumor suppressor PTEN: similarities and distinct actions from soy isoflavone genistein. Genes and Nutrition. 8(1):79-80.

Ronis, M.J., Baumgardner, J.N., Sharma, N., Badeaux, J., Ferguson, M.E., Tong, Y., Wu, X., Cleves, M.A., Badger, T.M. 2013. Medium chain triglycerides dose-dependently prevent liver pathology in a rat model of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Experimental Biology and Medicine. 238(2):151-162.

Andres, A., Bellando, J., Casey, P., Cleves, M., Badger, T.M. 2013. Effects of fat mass on motor development during the first two years of life. Infant, Child and Adolecscent Nutrition. 5(4):248-254.

Andres, A., Casey, P., Cleves, M., Badger, T.M. 2013. Body fat and bone mineral content of infants fed breast-milk, cow's-milk formula, or soy formula during the first year of life. Journal of Pediatrics. 163(1):49-54.

Saben, J., Zhong, Y., Gomez-Acevedo, H., Thakali, K.M., Borengasser, S.J., Andres, A., Shankar, K. 2013. Early growth response protein-1 mediates lipotoxicity-associated placental inflammation: Role in maternal obesity. American Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism. 305(1):E1-E14.

Montales, M.E., Rahal, O.M., Nakatani, H., Matsuda, T., Simmen, R.C. 2013. Repression of mammary adipogenesis by genistein limits mammosphere formation of human MCF-7 cells. Journal of Endocrinology. 218(1):135-149.

Ronis, M.J., Shankar, K., Badger, T.M. 2013. The toxic effects of calories. In: Klaaseen, C., editor. Casarett & Doull's Toxicology, Chapter 27, 8th Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. p. 1169-1186.

Ronis, M.J., Ward, W.E., Weaver, C.M. 2013. Skeletal effects of plant products other than soy. In: Watson, R.R., Preedy, V.R., editors. Bioactive Foods in Bioactive Food as Dietary Interventions for the Agiing Population. Elsevier Ltd., Oxford, U.K. p. 409-419.

Ronis, M.J., Shankar, K., Gomez-Acevedo, H., Hennings, L., Singhal, R., Blackburn, M., Badger, T.M. 2012. Mammary gland morphology and gene expression differ in female rats treated with 17 beta-estradiol or fed soy protein isolate. Endocrinology. 153(12):6021-6032.

Last Modified: 05/22/2017
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