McMaster University


McMaster University





Deborah Sloboda


Deborah Sloboda, PhD


Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences

Associate Member, Pediatrics
Canada Research Chair, Perinatal Programming

McMaster University
905-525-9140 ext. 22250

Visit Deb Sloboda's webpage


  • Perinatal programming
  • Reproduction
  • Metabolism

There is now no doubt that events occurring before birth influence weight gain, deposition of body fat and metabolic function during childhood and beyond. The increase in childhood obesity in recent decades has been more rapid than can be explained purely by genetic susceptibility or diet. Poor maternal nutrition and maternal stress both have long-term effects on offspring growth and development and increase risk of disease in adulthood. Recent studies also highlight the impact that early life events have on later reproductive function. Over the past century, the average age at which girls have their first menstrual period (the age at menarche) has advanced considerably. New evidence, across a number of populations, suggests that nutrition before and in the period following birth influences the processes leading to reproductive maturity.

Dr Sloboda's laboratory investigates the impact of poor maternal nutrition on the developing fetus and how it influences the risk of non-communicable disease later in life. Her experimental studies investigate the effects of maternal nutrient manipulation combined with a changing postnatal diet on pubertal onset, ovarian development and maturation, metabolic function and the role of underlying epigenetic processes. Dr Sloboda's laboratory seeks to understand the relationship between maternal nutrition and offspring phenotype, investigating how maternal nutritional history influences placental development and how altered placental development and function contributes to altered offspring phenotype. Her recent work has expanded to include circadian biology and the understanding of how the intrauterine environment influences circadian regulation in the offspring.

After completing her PhD in Physiology at the University of Toronto Dr Sloboda was awarded the Forrest Fetal Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Women's and Infants' Research Foundation, at The University of Western Australia. In 2006 she joined The Liggins Institute at The University of Auckland where she investigated the effects of maternal high fat nutrition on maternal care and associated changes in reproductive function in offspring and grand-offspring. From 2008-2011 Dr Sloboda was the Deputy Director of the National Research Centre for Growth and Development at the University of Auckland. She is a member of the Executive Council of the Society for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) and an Associate Editor for the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. She also holds cross appointments in the Depts of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Pediatrics at McMaster.

Potential Graduate Student Projects

  • Maternal nutritional compromise: effects on offspring ovarian clock gene signalling
  • Role of melatonin in regulating reproductive and metabolic function in programmed animals
  • Maternal obesity and offspring reproductive and metabolic outcome

Selected Publications

  • Vickers MH and Sloboda DM. (2012) Leptin as mediator of the effects of developmental programming. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. In press
  • Connor, KL, Vickers MH, Meaney M, Beltrand J and Sloboda DM (2012). Nature, nurture or nutrition? Impact of maternal nutrition on maternal care, offspring development and reproductive function. Journal of PhysiologyMar 12. [Epub ahead of print].
  • Beltrand J, Sloboda DM, Connor KL, Truong M and Vickers MH. (2012). The effect of neonatal leptin antagonism in male rat offspring is dependent upon prior maternal nutritional status and post-weaning diet. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2012: 296935. Epub 2012 Apr 2.
  • Howie, GJ, Sloboda DM, Vickers MH. (2011). Maternal undernutrition during critical windows of development results in differential and sex specific effects on postnatal adiposity and related metabolic profiles in adult rat offspring. British Journal of Nutrition Oct 11: 1-10.
  • Dudley K, Sloboda DM, Connor KL, Beltrand J, and Vickers MH (2011) Offspring of mothers fed a high fat diet during pregnancy and lactation display hepatic cell-cycle inhibition and associated changes in gene expression and DNA methylation PLoS ONE; 6(7):e21662.
  • Braun T, Li S, Moss TJM, Connor KL, Doherty DA, Newnham JP, Challis JRG and Sloboda DM (2011) Differential expression of prostaglandin H synthase type 2 in sheep placentome subtypes after betamethasone treatment late in gestation. Placenta 32(4):295-303.
  • Vickers MH, Clayton Z, Yap C and Sloboda DM (2011) High fructose intake during pregnancy leads to altered placental development and gender-specific changes in fetal and neonatal endocrine development Endocrinology 152(4):1378-87.
  • Sloboda DM Hickey M, Hart R. Reproduction in females: the role of the early life environment. (2011) Human Reproduction Update; 17(2):210-27.
  • Bernal AB, Vickers MH, Hampton MB, Poyton R, Sloboda DM (2010) Maternal nutrition significantly impacts ovarian follicle numbers and increases ovarian oxidative stress in adult rat offspring. PLoS One 5(12): e15558.
  • Whitehouse AJ, Mayberry MT, Hickey M, Sloboda DM. (2010) Brief Report: Autism-like traits in childhood predict later age at menarche in girls. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders; 41(8):1125-30.
  • Vickers MH and Sloboda DM. (2010) Prenatal nutritional influences on offspring risk of obesity. (2010) Nutrition and Dietary Supplements 2010:2 137?149.
  • Connor KL, Vickers MH, Cupido C, Sirimanne E and Sloboda DM (2010). Maternal high fat diet during critical windows of development alters adrenal cortical and medullary enzyme expression in adult male rat offspring. Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. 1(4), 245-254.
  • Hickey M, Doherty DA, Hart R, Norman RJ, Mattes E, Atkinson HC, Sloboda DM. (2010) Maternal and umbilical cord androgen concentrations do not predict digit ratio (2D:4D) in girls: A prospective cohort study. Psychoneuroendocrinology: 35(8):1235-1244.
  • Hart R, Sloboda DM, Doherty D, Norman R, Atkinson H, Newnham JP, Dickinson J, Hickey M (2009) Prenatal determinants of uterine volume and ovarian reserve in adolescence. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism Dec;94(12):4931-7.
  • Sloboda DM, Howie G., Gluckman PD., Vickers M.H. (2009) Pre- and postnatal nutritional histories influence reproductive maturation and ovarian function in the rat. PLoS One. Aug 25;4(8):e6744.
  • Sloboda DM, Beedle A, Cupido C, Gluckman PD, Vickers MH. (2009) Impaired perinatal growth and longevity: a life history perspective. Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research 2009:608740. Epub 2009 Sep 6.
  • Hickey M, Sloboda DM, Atkinson, H, Doherty D, Franks S, Norman, R, Newnham, JP, Hart R. (2009) The relationship between maternal and umbilical cord androgen levels and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome in adolescence: A prospective cohort study. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism Oct;94 (10):3714-20.
  • Howie G, Sloboda DM, Kamal T, Vickers MH. (2009) A maternal high fat diet preconceptionally and/or throughout pregnancy and lactation leads to obesity in offspring independent of postnatal diet. Journal of Physiology 587 (4): 905-915.
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