Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Effects of a ketogenic diet during pregnancy on embryonic growth in the mouse

Dafna Sussman12*, Matthijs van Eede2, Michael D Wong12, Susan Lee Adamson34 and Mark Henkelman12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Biophysics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

2 Mouse Imaging Centre (MICe), The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada

3 Departments of Physiology, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

4 Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Canada

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2013, 13:109  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-109

Published: 8 May 2013



The increasing use of the ketogenic diet (KD), particularly by women of child-bearing age, raises a question about its suitability during gestation. To date, no studies have thoroughly investigated the direct implications of a gestational ketogenic diet on embryonic development.


To fill this knowledge gap we imaged CD-1 mouse embryos whose mothers were fed either a Standard Diet (SD) or a KD 30 days prior to, as well as during gestation. Images were collected at embryonic days (E) 13.5 using Optical Projection Tomography (OPT) and at E17.5 using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).


An anatomical comparison of the SD and KD embryos revealed that at E13.5 the average KD embryo was volumetrically larger, possessed a relatively larger heart but smaller brain, and had a smaller pharynx, cervical spinal cord, hypothalamus, midbrain, and pons, compared with the average SD embryo. At E17.5 the KD embryo was found to be volumetrically smaller with a relatively smaller heart and thymus, but with enlarged cervical spine, thalamus, midbrain and pons.


A ketogenic diet during gestation results in alterations in embryonic organ growth. Such alterations may be associated with organ dysfunction and potentially behavioral changes in postnatal life.

Ketogenic diet; Low-carbohydrate diet; Embryonic development; CD-1 mouse; Mouse imaging; Optical projection tomography; Magnetic resonance imaging