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J Pathol. 1997 Sep;183(1):109-15.

The effects of maternal protein deprivation on the fetal rat pancreas: major structural changes and their recuperation.

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  • 1Department of Morbid Anatomy and Histopathology, Medical and Dental School of St. Bartholomew's, U.K.


There is evidence that low birth weight and poor growth in early life cause a long-term predisposition to non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Morphological changes were assessed in fetal rat pancreas subjected to both pre- and post-natal maternal protein deprivation (LP). Further groups were subjected to purely prenatal maternal protein deprivation (preLP) and purely postnatal maternal protein deprivation (postLP), as well as a control group. The results show that the LP and postLP groups had fewer but larger islets than the control group, while the preLP group had more numerous, smaller islets. All three low protein groups had more irregularly shaped islets than the control group. There was a reduction in the amount of beta cells within each islet in all three protein-deprived groups. The LP and postLP groups showed a reduction in the percentage of islet tissue and beta cells per pancreas, but the percentage of islet tissue expressed per unit body weight was similar in all four groups. These results show that in maternal protein deprivation, homeostatic mechanisms ensure a constant amount of pancreatic endocrine tissue per unit of body weight. However, there remain major structural changes in the size, shape, and composition of the islets. These results support the theory that early development profoundly affects the structure of the pancreas and may play a role in the later development of adult diseases, such as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

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