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Diabetologia. 1992 Oct;35(10):939-45.

Persistent reduction of pancreatic beta-cell mass after a limited period of protein-energy malnutrition in the young rat.

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Department of Medical Cell Biology, Uppsala University, Sweden.


Kwashiorkor, the human disease of protein-energy malnutrition, has been implicated in the aetiology of malnutrition-related diabetes mellitus, a form of diabetes not uncommon in developing countries. We have previously demonstrated that temporary protein-energy malnutrition in young rats causes a persisting impairment of insulin secretion. The present study investigates whether this secretory deficiency is accompanied by structural alterations of the endocrine pancreas. Three-week-old rats were weaned onto semi-synthetic diets containing either 15% or 5% protein and these diets were maintained for 3 weeks. From 6 weeks of age all rats were fed a commercial chow containing 18% protein. The endocrine pancreas was investigated by light and electron microscopic morphometry at 3, 6 and 12 weeks of age. In rats not subjected to protein-energy malnutrition there was a progressive increase, with age, of total pancreatic Beta-cell weight and individual Beta-cell size. In 6-week-old rats fed the low protein diet total pancreatic Beta-cell weight and individual Beta-cell size were diminished. In 12-week-old rats previously fed the low protein diet total Beta-cell weight remained lower compared to control rats. It is concluded that protein-energy malnutrition early in life may result in a diminished reserve for insulin production. This may predispose to glucose intolerance or even diabetes in situations with an increased insulin demand.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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