GALVESTON, Texas (KXAN) — The University of Texas Medical Branch conducted a study recently that found brain development in grandchildren could be affected by what their grandmother eats.

The study was performed on mice by UTMB. Research found that adverse effects of maternal high-fat diet on brain development and related disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, could carry over to a second generation of descendants, according to a press release about the study, which was published on Tuesday in Cell Reports.

It builds on findings from a previous study done by Shelly A. Buffington, assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology and faculty in the Sealy Center for Microbiome Research at UTMB, demonstrating the effects of maternal high-fat diet on offspring brain plasticity and social behavior published in Cell in 2016.

“Our study focused on the impact of high-fat diet exposure in the maternal lineage on behavioral outcomes associated with neurodevelopmental disorders in descendant generations,” Buffington said. “Remarkably, we found that a high fat grandmaternal diet has the potential to impact neurodevelopment and long-term behavioral outcomes across multiple descendant generations.”

In the current study, researchers compared gut microbial richness across three generations of mice. The grandmothers were fed either a control or high-fat diet.

Diet-driven loss of microbial richness observed in the grandmaternal females, and their first-generation offspring, was partially recovered by the second descendant generation, yet social deficits akin to those in the first descendant generation remained evident in the second.

“These data suggested that disruption of the maternal gut microbiome, instead of that of the juvenile offspring, could be the culprit underlying abnormal social behavior in the descendant generations,” said study co-first author and recent UTMB Neuroscience Graduate Program doctoral graduate, Claudia Di Gesù.

Di Gesù also suggested that preconception, prenatal, and postnatal supplementation with probiotics could one day be incorporated into a comprehensive regimen. A regimen including micronutrient, folic acid, and vitamin D dietary supplementation, physical activity, and cognitive behavior approaches to help improve long-term health outcomes in both the mother and her child, and, potentially, her children’s children.

Other UTMB co-authors include former Buffington Lab postdoctoral scholar Robert Fultz and research associate Ian Bolding. Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Palermo also contributed to the study.