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Toxicol Lett. 2012 Nov 15;214(3):279-87. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2012.09.007. Epub 2012 Sep 17.

Caffeine-induced fetal rat over-exposure to maternal glucocorticoid and histone methylation of liver IGF-1 might cause skeletal growth retardation.

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Department of Pharmacology, Basic Medical School of Wuhan University, Wuhan 430071, China.


Several epidemiological investigations, including previous work by our laboratory, indicate that maternal caffeine consumption is associated with intrauterine growth retardation and impaired fetal length growth. Skeletal development is critical for length growth. In the present study, our goals were to determine the effects of prenatal caffeine exposures on fetal skeletal growth and to investigate the mechanisms associated with such effects. Pregnant Wistar rats were injected intragastrically with 120mg/kg of caffeine intragastrically each day from gestational days 11-20. Maternal prenatal caffeine exposure was associated with decreased fetal femur lengths and inhibited of synthesis of extracellular matrices in fetal growth plates Moreover, caffeine exposure significantly increased the levels of fetal blood corticosterone and decreased IGF-1mRNA expression levels in the liver and growth plate. The expression levels of IGF-1 signaling pathway components (IGF-1R, IRS-1, AKT1/2 and Col2A1) were also reduced. In addition, the results of chromatin immunoprecipitation assays indicated that caffeine exposure down-regulated histone methylation of fetal IGF-1 in the liver. These results suggest that prenatal caffeine exposure may inhibit fetal skeletal growth through a mechanism that is associated with increased fetal exposure to maternal glucocorticoids and results in lower IGF-1 signaling pathway activity. Taken together, these results raise important concerns regarding the skeletal growth toxicity of caffeine and potentially indicate the intrauterine origins of adult osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

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