Prenatal malnutrition leads to deficits in attentional set shifting and decreases metabolic activity in prefrontal subregions that control executive function.

Academic Article


  • Globally, over 25% of all children under the age of 5 years experience malnutrition leading to cognitive and emotional impairments that can persist into adulthood and beyond. We use a rodent model to determine the impact of prenatal protein malnutrition on executive functions in an attentional set-shifting task and metabolic activity in prefrontal cortex (PFC) subregions critical to these behaviors. Long-Evans dams were provided with a low (6% casein) or adequate (25% casein) protein diet 5 weeks before mating and during pregnancy. At birth, the litters were culled to 8 pups and fostered to control dams on the 25% casein diet. At postnatal day 90, prenatally malnourished rats were less able to shift attentional set and reverse reward contingencies than controls, demonstrating cognitive rigidity. Naive same-sexed littermates were assessed for regional brain activity using the metabolic marker (14)C-2-deoxyglucose (2DG). The prenatally malnourished rats had lower metabolic activity than controls in prelimbic, infralimbic, anterior cingulate, and orbitofrontal cortices, but had comparable activity in the nearby piriform cortex and superior colliculus. This study demonstrates that prenatal protein malnutrition in a well-described animal model produces cognitive deficits in tests of attentional set shifting and reversal learning, similar to findings of cognitive inflexibility reported in humans exposed to early childhood malnutrition.
  • Authors

  • McGaughy, Jill
  • Amaral, Ana C
  • Rushmore, R Jarrett
  • Mokler, David J
  • Morgane, Peter J
  • Rosene, Douglas L
  • Galler, Janina R
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • 2014
  • Published In


  • Animals
  • Attention
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Cognition Disorders
  • Deoxyglucose
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Fetal Nutrition Disorders
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 25342495
  • Start Page

  • 532
  • End Page

  • 541
  • Volume

  • 36
  • Issue

  • 6