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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2009 Sep;297(3):R835-43. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00072.2009. Epub 2009 Jul 15.

Maternal obesity accelerates fetal pancreatic beta-cell but not alpha-cell development in sheep: prenatal consequences.

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Center for the Study of Fetal Programming, Department of Animal Science, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming, USA.


Maternal obesity affects offspring weight, body composition, and organ function, increasing diabetes and metabolic syndrome risk. We determined effects of maternal obesity and a high-energy diet on fetal pancreatic development. Sixty days prior to breeding, ewes were assigned to control [100% of National Research Council (NRC) recommendations] or obesogenic (OB; 150% NRC) diets. At 75 days gestation, OB ewes exhibited elevated insulin-to-glucose ratios at rest and during a glucose tolerance test, demonstrating insulin resistance compared with control ewes. In fetal studies, ewes ate their respective diets from 60 days before to 75 days after conception when animals were euthanized under general anesthesia. OB and control ewes increased in body weight by approximately 43% and approximately 6%, respectively, from diet initiation until necropsy. Although all organs were heavier in fetuses from OB ewes, only pancreatic weight increased as a percentage of fetal weight. Blood glucose, insulin, and cortisol were elevated in OB ewes and fetuses on day 75. Insulin-positive cells per unit pancreatic area were 50% greater in fetuses from OB ewes as a result of increased beta-cell mitoses rather than decreased programmed cell death. Lambs of OB ewes were born earlier but weighed the same as control lambs; however, their crown-to-rump length was reduced, and their fat mass was increased. We conclude that increased systemic insulin in fetuses from OB ewes results from increased glucose exposure and/or cortisol-induced accelerated fetal beta-cell maturation and may contribute to premature beta-cell function loss and predisposition to obesity and metabolic disease in offspring.

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