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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.

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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.