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Br J Nutr. 1997 Jul;78(1):121-9.

Altered adipocyte properties in the offspring of protein malnourished rats.

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Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Addenbrooke's Hospital, University of Cambridge.


It is becoming well established that poor fetal and early postnatal growth can have long-term effects on adult health, including susceptibility to non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. It is suggested that this results from poor nutrition during early life having permanent effects on the structure and metabolism of certain organs and tissues. In the present study we investigated the effect of a low-protein diet during pregnancy and lactation on adipocyte properties and glucose tolerance. Rat dams were fed on a diet containing either 200 (control) or 80 (low protein) g protein/kg during pregnancy and lactation. In addition cross-fostering techniques were employed to enable a separate evaluation of the prenatal and postnatal periods. All offspring were weaned onto a 200 g protein/kg diet at 21 d of age and then studied at 6 weeks of age. The mothers' protein supply during lactation appeared to be the most critical time window for long-term growth. In contrast, the offspring of mothers fed on a low-protein diet during pregnancy or lactation were significantly more glucose tolerant than controls, suggesting that both time windows can have long-term effects on glucose tolerance. In addition offspring of mothers fed on a low-protein diet during pregnancy or lactation had significantly smaller adipocytes than controls. However the largest reduction in adipocyte size was observed when there was a low-protein diet during both pregnancy and lactation. The amount of insulin receptor present in adipocyte membranes was increased in the three animal groups that had been exposed to the low-protein diets while levels of the insulin responsive glucose transporter (GLUT 4) were similar in adipocyte membranes from all groups.

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