The perinatal period is critically important to the development of autonomic neural circuits responsible for energy homeostasis. Vagal neurocircuits are vital to the regulation of upper gastrointestinal functions, including satiety. Diet-induced obesity modulates the excitability and responsiveness of both peripheral vagal afferents and central vagal efferents but less information is available regarding the effects of diet per se on vagal neurocircuit functions. The aims of this study were to investigate whether perinatal exposure to a high fat diet (HFD) dysregulated dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV) neurones, prior to the development of obesity. Whole cell patch clamp recordings were made from gastric-projecting DMV neurones in thin brainstem slices from rats that were exposed to either a control diet or HFD from pregnancy day 13. Our data demonstrate that following perinatal HFD: (i) DMV neurones had decreased excitability and input resistance with a reduced ability to fire action potentials; (ii) the proportion of DMV neurones excited by cholecystokinin (CCK) was unaltered but the proportion of neurones in which CCK increased excitatory glutamatergic synaptic inputs was reduced; (iii) the tonic activation of presynaptic group II metabotropic glutamate receptors on inhibitory nerve terminals was attenuated, allowing modulation of GABAergic synaptic transmission; and (iv) the size and dendritic arborization of gastric-projecting DMV neurones was increased. These results suggest that perinatal HFD exposure compromises the excitability and responsiveness of gastric-projecting DMV neurones, even in the absence of obesity, suggesting that attenuation of vago-vagal reflex signalling may precede the development of obesity.
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