Insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) are thought to be important regulators of embryonic and fetal development. The half life, distribution and action of IGFs are modulated by a family of IGF-binding proteins (IGFBP). This study investigated the pattern of IGFBP-1 expression in the ovine uterus during the oestrous cycle and early pregnancy by in situ hybridisation. Uteri were collected from 46 non-pregnant ewes throughout the oestrous cycle and from 12 pregnant ewes between days (D)13 and 22 of gestation. Samples were also obtained on D16-17 from both horns of 5 ewes with unilateral pregnancies following uterine transection. IGFBP-1 expression was quantified as optical density (OD) units from autoradiographs using a Seescan image analysis system. IGFBP-1 mRNA was confined to the luminal epithelium, with a highly significant variation in concentration according to the stage of the cycle. In non-pregnant uteri, IGFBP-1 concentrations were high throughout the late luteal phase and oestrous period, peaking at an OD of 0.76+/-0.119, but concentrations fell below the detection limit (OD<0.01) by D5 before starting to increase again between D7 and 9. During early pregnancy there was no difference in expression between non-pregnant and pregnant ewes on D13 (OD 0.76+/-0.065, n=6 vs 0.71+/-0.070, n=3). As pregnancy progressed there was a significant steady decline in IGFBP-1 expression to 0.04+/-0.02 on D22. In the transected uteri on D16-17, IGFBP-1 mRNA expression was significantly higher in the pregnant than in the non-pregnant horn (0.44+/-0.04 vs 0.10+/-0.02, n=5, P<0.01). In conclusion, the location of the IGFBP-1 suggests that it may play a role in regulating the transfer of IGFs between the endometrium and the uterine lumen. The conceptus may enhance IGFBP-1 expression during early pregnancy. Oestrogen and progesterone may regulate IGFBP-1 expression during the cycle but this requires further investigation.
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JC Osgerby, DC Wathes, D Howard, and TS Gadd
The placenta is a highly efficient multifunctional organ, mediating the exchange of nutrients, gases and waste products between the dam and fetus. This study investigated the effects of chronic maternal undernutrition (70% of estimated requirement) on the placental growth trajectory in the ewe on days 45, 90 and 135 of gestation. The insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system was investigated using in situ hybridisation analysis to determine if nutritionally mediated alterations in placental growth were regulated through modifications in placental IGF expression. Placental weight increased between days 45 and 90 (P<0.01), accompanied by a reduction in maternal placentome IGF binding protein (IGFBP)-3, -5 and -6 expression (P<0.05), although IGF-II mRNA levels in maternal villi remained unchanged. Placentome number was unaffected by diet or gestational age. Placental weight remained constant between days 90 and 135 in ewes on 100% maintenance rations but decreased over this period (P<0.05) in ewes on the 70% rations. Gross morphology also altered, so the underfed ewes had more type C and type D placentomes and fewer type B placentomes than their well-fed counterparts on day 135 (P<0.05). These changes were accompanied by higher IGFBP-6 mRNA expression in the maternal placental villi in undernourished ewes (P<0.05). The change in shape from a type A to a type C placentome was accompanied by flattening of the placentome and a reduction in the ratio of the area of unattached fetal allantochorion to interdigitated maternal and fetal villi. Within the intercotyledonary endometrium, expression of IGFBPs-3 and -5 mRNA in the glandular epithelium increased between days 45 and 90, showing an opposite trend with time to that found in the adjacent placentomes. This indicates tissue-specific control of IGFBP expression. In conclusion, this study has shown clear time-related changes in the uterine IGFBP system during pregnancy, which accompany changes in placental growth. Altered IGFBP expression may play a role in determining placental size in relation to nutritional status, but is unlikely to be the only mediator.
JC Osgerby, DC Wathes, D Howard, and TS Gadd
Modifications in maternal nutrition during pregnancy can significantly disrupt fetal growth and subsequent post-natal health and survival. This study investigated the effects of undernutrition on fetal growth and the potential mechanisms involved. Tissue from pregnant ewes (n=27) was investigated on days 45, 90 and 135 of gestation (term = approximately 150 days). The thoracic girth (P<0.05) was greater in fetuses from nutrient restricted ewes on day 45 and there was also a trend towards an increased gut weight (P<0.08). By day 90, the fetal brain and thymus weight were lighter in underfed than in well-fed animals whilst the weight of the fetal ovaries was heavier (P<0.05). On day 135 the fetal heart, pancreas, thymus, gut and kidney weights were lighter in undernourished ewes (P<0.05). When expressed as a percentage of fetal body weight, significance was retained in the heart, pancreas and thymus (P<0.05). Bone growth was also affected. At day 90 the fetal femur and metatarsal were longer in underfed mothers (P<0.05). In contrast, the fetal humerus and scapula were shorter in underfed than in well-fed animals on day 135 (P<0.05) when the weight of the semitendinosus muscle (P<0.05) was also reduced. The fall in fetal glucose (P<0.1), insulin (P<0.01) and IGF-I (P<0.01) levels in underfed ewes on day 135 may have compromised fetal growth. Fetal plasma IGF binding protein-2 also increased between days 90 and 135 in underfed ewes (P<0.03), whilst levels were unaltered in well-fed animals. Although maternal and fetal plasma IGF-I levels increased with gestation (P<0.01) and the placentome morphology altered in all ewes (P<0.05), the fall in placental mass (P<0.05), amniotic and allantoic glucose concentrations (P<0.05) and maternal plasma glucose and insulin levels (P<0.05) in underfed ewes in late gestation may have compromised fetal substrate delivery. These perturbations in fetal development may have significant implications on adult health and carcass conformation, raising important health and economic issues in medical and agricultural sectors.