A poor nutritional environment during early development has long been known to increase disease susceptibility later in life. We have previously shown that rats that are overfed as neonates (i.e. suckled in small litters (4 pups) relative to control conditions (12 pups)) show dysregulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis responses to immune stress in adulthood, particularly due to an altered capacity of the adrenal to respond to an immune challenge. Here we hypothesised that neonatal overfeeding similarly affects the sympathomedullary system, testing this by investigating the biochemical function of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), the first rate-limiting enzyme in the catecholamine synthesis. We also examined changes in adrenal expression of the leptin receptor and in mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling. During the neonatal period, we saw age-dependent changes in TH activity and phosphorylation, with neonatal overfeeding stimulating increased adrenal TH specific activity at postnatal days 7 and 14, along with a compensatory reduction in total TH protein levels. This increased TH activity was maintained into adulthood where neonatally overfed rats exhibited increased adrenal responsiveness 30 min after an immune challenge with lipopolysaccharide, evident in a concomitant increase in TH protein levels and specific activity. Neonatal overfeeding significantly reduced the expression of the leptin receptor in neonatal adrenals at postnatal day 7 and in adult adrenals, but did not affect MAPK signalling. These data suggest neonatal overfeeding alters the capacity of the adrenal to synthesise catecholamines, both acutely and long term, and these effects may be independent of leptin signalling.
- Tyrosine hydroxylase