Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Longevity & Healthspan and BioMed Central.

Open Access Open Badges Research

Evidence of a metabolic memory to early-life dietary restriction in male C57BL/6 mice

Colin Selman* and Sarah Hempenstall

Author Affiliations

Integrative and Environmental Physiology, Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen,, AB24 2TZ, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

Longevity & Healthspan 2012, 1:2  doi:10.1186/2046-2395-1-2

Published: 3 September 2012



Dietary restriction (DR) extends lifespan and induces beneficial metabolic effects in many animals. What is far less clear is whether animals retain a metabolic memory to previous DR exposure, that is, can early-life DR preserve beneficial metabolic effects later in life even after the resumption of ad libitum (AL) feeding. We examined a range of metabolic parameters (body mass, body composition (lean and fat mass), glucose tolerance, fed blood glucose, fasting plasma insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), insulin sensitivity) in male C57BL/6 mice dietary switched from DR to AL (DR-AL) at 11 months of age (mid life). The converse switch (AL-DR) was also undertaken at this time. We then compared metabolic parameters of the switched mice to one another and to age-matched mice maintained exclusively on an AL or DR diet from early life (3 months of age) at 1 month, 6 months or 10 months post switch.


Male mice dietary switched from AL-DR in mid life adopted the metabolic phenotype of mice exposed to DR from early life, so by the 10-month timepoint the AL-DR mice overlapped significantly with the DR mice in terms of their metabolic phenotype. Those animals switched from DR-AL in mid life showed clear evidence of a glycemic memory, with significantly improved glucose tolerance relative to mice maintained exclusively on AL feeding from early life. This difference in glucose tolerance was still apparent 10 months after the dietary switch, despite body mass, fasting insulin levels and insulin sensitivity all being similar to AL mice at this time.


Male C57BL/6 mice retain a long-term glycemic memory of early-life DR, in that glucose tolerance is enhanced in mice switched from DR-AL in mid life, relative to AL mice, even 10 months following the dietary switch. These data therefore indicate that the phenotypic benefits of DR are not completely dissipated following a return to AL feeding. The challenge now is to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying these effects, the time course of these effects and whether similar interventions can confer comparable benefits in humans.

Dietary restriction; Glucose tolerance; Insulin sensitivity; Dietary switch; C57BL/6 mice; Body composition; Insulin; IGF-1; Metabolic memory; Glycemia