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Hypertension. 1998 Jul;32(1):108-14.

Prenatal malnutrition-induced changes in blood pressure: dissociation of stress and nonstress responses using radiotelemetry.

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Center for Behavioral Development and Mental Retardation, Boston University School of Medicine, Mass 02118, USA.


A link between prenatal malnutrition and hypertension in human populations has recently been proposed. Rat models of prenatal malnutrition have provided major support for this theory on the basis of tail-cuff measurements. However, this technique requires restraint and elevated temperature, both potential sources of stress. To determine the effect of prenatal protein malnutrition on blood pressure under nonstress conditions, 24-hour radiotelemetric measurements were taken in the home cage. Male rats born to dams fed a 6% casein diet for 5 weeks before mating and throughout pregnancy were studied in early adulthood (from 96 days of age). During the waking phase of their cycle but not the sleep phase, prenatal malnutrition gave rise to small but significant elevations of diastolic blood pressure and heart rate compared with well-nourished controls. Direct effects of stress on blood pressure responses were determined in a second experiment using an olfactory stressor. Prenatally malnourished rats showed a greater increase in both systolic and diastolic pressures compared with well-nourished controls during the first exposure to ammonia. A different pattern of change of cardiovascular responses was also observed during subsequent presentations of the stressor. These findings of a small baseline increase in diastolic pressure consequent to prenatal malnutrition, but an augmented elevation of both systolic and diastolic pressures after first exposure to stress, suggest the need to reevaluate interpretation of the large elevations in blood pressure previously observed in malnourished animals using the stressful tail-cuff procedure.

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