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ME Symonds, A Mostyn, S Pearce, H Budge and T Stephenson

In the fetus, adipose tIssue comprises both brown and white adipocytes for which brown fat is characterised as possessing the unique uncoupling protein (UCP)1. The dual characteristics of fetal fat reflect its critical role at birth in providing lipid that is mobilised rapidly following activation of UCP1 upon cold exposure to the extra-uterine environment. A key stage in the maturation of fetal fat is the gradual rise in the abundance of UCP1. For species with a mature hypothalamic-pituitary axis at birth there is a gradual increase in the amount and activity of UCP1 during late gestation, in conjunction with an increase in the plasma concentrations of catecholamines, thyroid hormones, cortisol, leptin and prolactin. These may act individually, or in combination, to promote UCP1 expression and, following the post-partum surge in each hormone, UCP1 abundance attains maximal amounts.Adipose tIssue grows in the fetus at a much lower rate than in the postnatal period. However, its growth is under marked nutritional constraints and, in contrast to many other fetal organs that are unaffected by nutritional manipulation, fat mass can be significantly altered by changes in maternal and, therefore, fetal nutrition. Fat deposition in the fetus is enhanced during late gestation following a previous period of nutrient restriction up to mid gestation. This is accompanied by increased mRNA abundance for the receptors of IGF-I and IGF-II. In contrast, increasing maternal nutrition in late gestation results in less adipose tIssue deposition but enhanced UCP1 abundance. The pronounced nutritional sensitivity of fetal adipose tIssue to both increased and decreased maternal nutrition may explain why the consequences of an adverse nutritional environment persist into later life.

Open access

M A Hyatt, D H Keisler, H Budge and M E Symonds

Maternal parity influences size at birth, postnatal growth and body composition with firstborn infants being more likely to be smaller with increased fat mass, suggesting that adiposity is set in early life. The precise effect of parity on fat mass and its endocrine sensitivity remains unclear and was, therefore, investigated in the present study. We utilised an established sheep model in which perirenal–abdominal fat mass (the major fat depot in the neonatal sheep) increases ∼10-fold over the first month of life and focussed on the impact of parity on glucocorticoid sensitivity and adipokine expression in the adipocyte. Twin-bearing sheep of similar body weight and adiposity that consumed identical diets were utilised, and maternal blood samples were taken at 130 days of gestation. One offspring from each twin pair was sampled at 1 day of age, coincident with the time of maximal recruitment of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1), whilst its sibling was sampled at 1 month, when UCP1 had disappeared. Plasma leptin was lower in nulliparous mothers than in multiparous mothers, and offspring of nulliparous mothers possessed more adipose tissue with increased mRNA abundance of leptin, glucocorticoid receptor and UCP2, adaptations that persisted up to 1 month of age when gene expression for interleukin-6 and adiponectin was also raised. The increase in fat mass associated with firstborn status is therefore accompanied by a resetting of the leptin and glucocorticoid axis within the adipocyte. Our findings emphasise the importance of parity in determining adipose tissue development and that firstborn offspring have an increased capacity for adipogenesis which may be critical in determining later adiposity.

Free access

H Budge, A Mostyn, V Wilson, A Khong, AM Walker, ME Symonds and T Stephenson

The present study determines whether maternal administration of prolactin (PRL) to dams promotes the abundance of the brown adipose tissue-specific uncoupling protein-1 (UCP1) in fetal and neonatal rat pups. Recombinant PRL (24 micro g/kg per day), or an equivalent volume of saline, were infused into dams (n=19 per group) throughout pregnancy from 12 h after mating. Interscapular brown adipose tissue was sampled either from fetuses at 19.5 days of gestation (term=21.5 days) or from neonatal rat pups at approximately 18 h after birth. The abundance of UCP1 was determined by immunoblotting on adipose tissue samples from individual pups and pooled from groups of pups. This analysis was complemented by immunocytochemistry on representative adipose tissue samples. Maternal PRL infusion resulted in a greater abundance of UCP1 in fetal rats at 19.5 days of gestation (control: 97.2+/-8.4% reference; PRL: 525.6+/-74.4% reference; P<0.001) and in neonates 18 h after birth. In contrast, the abundance of the outer mitochondrial membrane protein voltage-dependent anion channel was unaffected by PRL. Neonatal adipose tissue sampled from pups born to PRL-infused dams possessed fewer lipid droplets, but more UCP1, as determined by immunocytochemistry. Fetal, but not maternal, plasma leptin concentrations were also increased by maternal PRL administration. In conclusion, as rats are altricial, and the potential thermogenic activity of brown adipose tissue develops over the first few days of postnatal life, these changes prior to, and at the time of, birth implicate PRL in fetal and neonatal adipose tissue maturation.

Free access

A Mostyn, S Pearce, H Budge, M Elmes, AJ Forhead, AL Fowden, T Stephenson and ME Symonds

The present study examined the extent to which the late gestation rise in fetal plasma cortisol influenced adipose tIssue development in the fetus. The effect of cortisol on the abundance of adipose tIssue mitochondrial proteins on both the inner (i.e. uncoupling protein (UCP)1) and outer (i.e. voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC)) mitochondrial membrane, together with the long and short forms of the prolactin receptor (PRLR) protein and leptin mRNA was determined. Perirenal adipose tIssue was sampled from ovine fetuses to which (i) cortisol (2-3 mg/day for 5 days) or saline was infused up to 127-130 days of gestation, and (ii) adrenalectomised and intact controls at between 142 and 145 days of gestation (term=148 days). UCP1 protein abundance was significantly lower in adrenalectomised fetuses compared with age-matched controls, and UCP1 was increased by cortisol infusion and with gestational age. Adrenalectomy reduced the concentration of the long form of PRLR, although this effect was only significant for the highest molecular weight isoform. In contrast, neither the short form of PRLR, VDAC protein abundance or leptin mRNA expression was significantly affected by gestational age or cortisol status. Fetal plasma triiodothyronine concentrations were increased by cortisol and with gestational age, an affect abolished by adrenalectomy. When all treatment groups were combined, both plasma cortisol and triiodothyronine concentrations were positively correlated with UCP1 protein abundance. In conclusion, an intact adrenal is necessary for the late gestation rise in UCP1 protein abundance but cortisol does not appear to have a major stimulatory role in promoting leptin expression in fetal adipose tIssue. It remains to be established whether effects on UCP1 protein are directly regulated by cortisol alone or mediated by other anabolic fetal hormones such as triiodothyronine.

Free access

S Pearce, H Budge, A Mostyn, E Genever, R Webb, P Ingleton, A M Walker, M E Symonds and T Stephenson

A primary role of the prolactin receptor (PRLR) during fetal and postnatal development has been suggested to be the regulation of uncoupling protein (UCP) expression. We, therefore, determined whether: (1) the rate of loss of UCP1 from brown adipose tissue after birth was paralleled by the disappearance of PRLR; and (2) administration of either pituitary extract prolactin (PRL) containing a mixture of posttranslationally modified forms or its pseudophosphorylated form (S179D PRL) improved thermoregulation and UCP1 function over the first week of neonatal life. PRLR abundance was greatest in adipose tissue 6 h after birth before declining up to 30 days of age, a trend mirrored by first a gain and then a loss of UCP1. In contrast, in the liver – which does not possess UCPs –a postnatal decline in PRLR was not observed. Administration of PRL resulted in an acute increase in colonic temperature in conjunction with increased plasma concentrations of non-esterified fatty acids and, as a result, the normal postnatal decline in body temperature was delayed. S179D PRL at lower concentrations resulted in a transient rise in colonic temperature at both 2 and 6 days of age. In conclusion, we have demonstrated a close relationship between the ontogeny of UCP1 and the PRLR. Exogenous PRL administration elicits a thermogenic effect suggesting an important role for the PRLR in regulating UCP1 function.

Free access

Neele S Dellschaft, Marie-Cecile Alexandre-Gouabau, David S Gardner, Jean-Philippe Antignac, Duane H Keisler, Helen Budge, Michael E Symonds and Sylvain P Sebert

Maternal caloric restriction during late gestation reduces birth weight, but whether long-term adverse metabolic outcomes of intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR) are dependent on either accelerated postnatal growth or exposure to an obesogenic environment after weaning is not established. We induced IUGR in twin-pregnant sheep using a 40% maternal caloric restriction commencing from 110 days of gestation until term (∼147 days), compared with mothers fed to 100% of requirements. Offspring were reared either as singletons to accelerate postnatal growth or as twins to achieve standard growth. To promote an adverse phenotype in young adulthood, after weaning, offspring were reared under a low-activity obesogenic environment with the exception of a subgroup of IUGR offspring, reared as twins, maintained in a standard activity environment. We assessed glucose tolerance together with leptin and cortisol responses to feeding in young adulthood when the hypothalamus was sampled for assessment of genes regulating appetite control, energy and endocrine sensitivity. Caloric restriction reduced maternal plasma glucose, raised non-esterified fatty acids, and changed the metabolomic profile, but had no effect on insulin, leptin, or cortisol. IUGR offspring whose postnatal growth was enhanced and were obese showed insulin and leptin resistance plus raised cortisol. This was accompanied by increased hypothalamic gene expression for energy and glucocorticoid sensitivity. These long-term adaptations were reduced but not normalized in IUGR offspring whose postnatal growth was not accelerated and remained lean in a standard post-weaning environment. IUGR results in an adverse metabolic phenotype, especially when postnatal growth is enhanced and offspring progress to juvenile-onset obesity.

Free access

M A Hyatt, G S Gopalakrishnan, J Bispham, S Gentili, I C McMillen, S M Rhind, M T Rae, C E Kyle, A N Brooks, C Jones, H Budge, D Walker, T Stephenson and M E Symonds

The liver is a major metabolic and endocrine organ of critical importance in the regulation of growth and metabolism. Its function is determined by a complex interaction of nutritionally regulated counter-regulatory hormones. The extent to which hepatic endocrine sensitivity can be programed in utero and whether the resultant adaptations persist into adulthood is unknown and was therefore the subject of this study. Young adult male sheep born to mothers that were fed either a control diet (i.e.100% of total live weight-maintenance requirements) throughout gestation or 50% of that intake (i.e. nutrient restricted (NR)) from 0 to 95 days gestation and thereafter 100% of requirements (taking into account increasing fetal mass) were entered into the study. All mothers gave birth normally at term, the singleton offspring were weaned at 16 weeks, and then reared at pasture until 3 years of age when their livers were sampled. NR offspring were of similar birth and body weights at 3 years of age when they had disproportionately smaller livers than controls. The abundance of mRNA for GH, prolactin, and IGF-II receptors, plus hepatocyte growth factor and suppressor of cytokine signaling-3 were all lower in livers of NR offspring. In contrast, the abundance of the mitochondrial protein voltage-dependent anion channel and the pro-apoptotic factor Bax were up regulated relative to controls. In conclusion, maternal nutrient restriction in early gestation results in adult offspring with smaller livers. This may be mediated by alterations in both hepatic mitogenic and apoptotic factors.