Relationship between nutritionally-mediated placental growth restriction and fetal growth, body composition and endocrine status during late gestation in adolescent sheep

J. M. Wallace, D A Bourke, R. P. Aitken, R M Palmer, P Da Silva, M. A. Cruickshank

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The aim was to investigate the consequences of nutritionally-mediated placental growth restriction on fetal organ growth, conformation, body composition and endocrine status during late gestation. Embryos recovered from superovulated adult ewes inseminated by a single sire were transferred in singleton to the uterus of peripubertal adolescent recipients. Post-transfer, adolescent dams were offered a high (H) or moderate (M) level of a complete diet to promote rapid or moderate maternal growth rates, respectively (n = 7 per group). After day 100 of gestation the feed intake of the M darns was adjusted weekly to maintain body condition score. Liveweight gain during the first 100 days of gestation was 301 +/- 24 and 90 +/- 4.6 g/day for the H and M groups, respectively. Maternal plasma concentrations of insulin, IGF-I and urea were significantly higher and non-esterified fatty acid concentrations significantly lower in H compared with M dams prior to slaughter on day 128 of gestation. At this stage of gestation, total placentome weight was 50 per cent lower in H compared with hi groups (P < 0.001) and was associated with a 37 per cent reduction in fetal weight (P < 0.01). All variables of fetal conformation and absolute fetal organ weights, with the exception of the adrenal glands, were lower (P < 0.05) in the fetuses from H intake darns. However, relative fetal organ weights expressed as g/kg fetal body weight, with the exception of the gut, were not influenced by maternal dietary intake. Furthermore, fetal weight but not maternal nutritional group were predictive of individual organ weight for all organs dissected. Together these results imply that growth restriction in the fetuses derived from H intake dams was largely symmetrical. Fetal plasma concentrations of insulin, IGF-I and glucose were attenuated (P < 0.05) in fetuses from H compared with M groups. The lower fetal body weight in the former group was associated with a reduction in absolute but not relative crude protein (P < 0.01) and fat content (P < 0.05). Total fetal liver glycogen content but not concentration was (P < 0.05) reduced in H versus hi groups. The lower mass of both the placenta and fetal liver was due to a reduction in cell number rather than an alteration in cell size. Thus, over-nourishing adolescent sheep is associated with a major restriction in placental growth which mediates a gradual slowing of fetal growth during the final third of pregnancy. (C) 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-108
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2000


  • heat-stress
  • factor-I
  • metabolism
  • insulin
  • protein
  • ewes
  • midgestation
  • pregnancy
  • fetus
  • size

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