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Diabetologia. 2002 Oct;45(10):1397-403. Epub 2002 Sep 5.

Dietary fatty acid composition during pregnancy and lactation in the rat programs growth and glucose metabolism in the offspring.

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Laboratory for Health Effects Research, National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, P.O. Box 1, 3720 BA Bilthoven, the Netherlands.



We investigated of the effects of fatty acid composition of the maternal diet on fetal and postnatal growth, morphology of the pancreas and glucose metabolism and muscle hexosamine concentrations in the adult offspring of rats.


High-fat diets enriched with either saturated or unsaturated fatty acids were fed to female adult rats 2 weeks before mating until the end of the weaning period. After weaning, the offspring was maintained on a diet with a balanced fatty acid content. At 3 months of age, pancreatic Langerhans islet size and number were assessed by morphometric analysis and oral glucose tolerance tests (OGTT) were carried out.


The unsaturated fatty acid diet showed lower birth weight and reduced postnatal weight gain. Furthermore, this group showed increased pancreatic islet numbers without affected glucose tolerance at the age of 12 weeks. The offspring of the saturated fatty acid diet group showed a reduced number of large pancreatic islets. Moreover, a faster and higher insulin response was observed after an oral glucose load in these animals. Muscle hexosamine concentrations were not different between groups.


Maternal diets enriched with either saturated fatty acids or unsaturated fatty acids had opposite effects on pancreatic islet development in rat offspring, with consequences for the insulin response at 12 weeks of age. Therefore, maternal dietary fatty acid composition plays a role in programming growth, pancreatic development and glucose metabolism in the offspring.

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