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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1982 Spring;6(1):55-75.

Overt and hidden forms of chronic malnutrition in the rat and their relevance to man.


We have examined the physiological weight changes seen in rat dams and their offspring as sequelae of either an overt or a hidden form of chronic protein malnutrition. In the overt model, which was produced by feeding dams a very low protein diet (6% casein) starting 5 weeks prior to conception and continued through lactation, the females showed significant weight losses at all ages compared to dams maintained on a normal diet (25% casein). This caused the malnourished 6% dams to have offspring that were categorized as small-for-date at birth in terms of their weight indices and peripheral metabolic profiles. Also, the inadequate milk production of these dams resulted in their pups displaying the almost total failure of growth (greater than 60% decreases in body weights) and peripheral imbalances characteristic of infantile marasmus by day 8 of lactation. Consequently, at all times examined the 6% dams and pups showed most of the typical responses seen in the more severe forms of in utero and lactational malnutrition of mankind. In contrast, the hidden form of malnutrition produced by feeding dams a somewhat higher protein diet (8% casein) throughout the same time periods caused no marked weight losses by these females during their pregnancy compared to the normal dams. Although the 8% pups had the same birth weight indices as the normal offspring, previous data from our group have indicated that the 8% progeny show many metabolic imbalances at birth which are indicators of severe gestational malnutrition in humans. Moreover, while the 8% dams displayed lactational insufficiencies as noted by their pups retarded postnatal growth, nursing of these offspring by 25% dams allowed them to maintain a normal lactational growth curve. However, not only was this cross-fostering unable to rehabilitate most of the prenatally determined biochemical alterations affecting the 8% pups but, additionally, this form of malnutrition will remain undetected if weight indices alone are used as assessors of normalcy. Thus, it appears that the 8% rats may serve as a useful model for the hidden forms of malnutrition in man.

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