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J Endocrinol. 1986 Jan;108(1):137-42.

Pancreatic alpha cell function in the fetal and newborn pig.


Plasma glucagon concentrations were measured in chronically catheterized fetal pigs during the last third of gestation and compared with the values observed in anaesthetized fetuses of similar gestational age. The mean plasma concentration of glucagon in the chronically catheterized fetuses was 10.0 +/- 1.4 (S.E.M.) pmol/l (n = 11; term = 114 +/- 2 days). Concentrations were increased after catheterization and fell to baseline values within 48 h of surgery. Arginine infusion evoked a rapid release of glucagon in chronically catheterized fetuses between 105 and 108 days of gestation; the mean maximum increment in plasma glucagon was 15.4 +/- 4.5 pmol/l (n = 5). Plasma glucagon concentrations increased with increasing gestational age in both anaesthetized and chronically catheterized fetuses. Between 95 and 110 days of gestation, glucagon levels were significantly higher in anaesthetized fetuses than in chronically catheterized animals with similar normal pH values. Catheterization and prematurity had no apparent effect on plasma glucagon levels at birth. The plasma concentrations at birth were similar to those observed in the chronically catheterized fetuses in utero provided the piglets did not become acidotic during delivery. Significantly higher plasma levels of glucagon were found in newborn piglets with acidaemia (pH less than 7.3) than in piglets with normal pH values at birth (pH greater than 7.3). When all the data from the newborn piglets were combined, there was a significant negative correlation (r = -0.79, n = 39, P less than 0.01) between blood pH and the plasma concentration of glucagon at birth. These observations demonstrate that the fetal alpha cells are functional and responsive in utero and at birth.

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