Switching maternal dietary intake at the end of the first trimester has profound effects on placental development and fetal growth in adolescent ewes carrying singleton fetuses

Jacqueline Wallace, D A Bourke, Raymond Aitken, Morven Cruickshank

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80 Citations (Scopus)


The aim was to investigate whether placental growth and hence pregnancy outcome could be altered by switching adolescent dams from a high to a moderate nutrient intake, and vice-versa, at the end of the first trimester. Embryos recovered from adult ewes inseminated by a single sire were transferred in singleton to peripubertal adolescents. After transfer, adolescent ewes were offered a high (H, n = 33) or moderate (M, n = 32) level of a diet calculated to promote rapid or moderate maternal growth rates, respectively. At Day 50 of gestation, half the ewes had their dietary intakes switched, yielding 4 treatment groups: HH, MM, HM, and MH. A subset of ewes were killed at Day 104 of gestation to determine maternal body composition in relation to growth of the products of conception. Maternal body composition measurements revealed that the higher live weight in the high-intake dams was predominantly due to an increase in body fat deposition, with a less pronounced increase in body protein. At Day 104, HH and MH groups (high intake during second trimester) compared with MM and HM groups (moderate intake during second trimester) had a lower (p < 0.002) total fetal cotyledon weight; but fetal weight, conformation, and individual organ weights were not significantly influenced by maternal dietary intake. In ewes delivering live young at term, a high plane of nutrition from the end of the first trimester (HH and MH groups) compared with moderate levels (MM and HM groups) was associated with a reduction in gestation length (p < 0.009), total placental weight (p < 0.002), total fetal cotyledon weight (p < 0.001), and mean fetal cotyledon weight per placenta (p < 0.001). Fetal cotyledon number was dependent on maternal dietary intake during the first trimester only and was lower (p < 0.007) in HH and HM ewes compared to MM and MH ewes. The inhibition of fetal cotyledon growth in HH and MH groups was associated with a major decrease (p < 0.001) in lamb birth weight at term relative to the MM and HM groups. Thus, reducing maternal dietary intake from a high to a moderate level at the end of the first trimester stimulates placental growth and enhances pregnancy outcome, and increasing maternal dietary intake at this time point has a deleterious effect on placental development and fetal growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-110
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1999



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