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MK Bauer, JE Harding, BH Breier, and PD Gluckman

The role of GH in the regulation of fetal growth and metabolism in late gestation is not well defined. The aim of this study was to determine the effects of exogenous GH infusion on fetal growth and feto-placental metabolism in the normally growing late-gestation fetal sheep. Eleven fetuses received pulsatile GH infusion (3.5 mg/day) for 10 days while 12 control fetuses received vehicle. The GH infusion was given as a continuous infusion (2.5 mg/day) plus an additional pulsatile component (30 pulses equivalent to 1 mg/day) designed to mimic the natural pattern of GH secretion. Fetal GH infusion raised the circulating fetal concentrations of GH threefold, but did not change fetal concentrations of IGF-I, IGF-binding protein-3, insulin or ovine placental lactogen. GH-treated fetuses had blood urea concentrations 15% lower than controls (P<0.05) and glucose uptake 18% lower per kg fetal weig! ht (P=0.06). There were no other differences attributable to fetal GH infusion in feto-placental metabolism, placental function or placental blood flow. GH-treated fetuses were larger than controls at postmortem (weight+13%, P<0.01; girth+5%, P<0.01; crown-rump length+3%, P<0.05). However, there were no differences between groups in measures of fetal growth (increment in chest girth and hindlimb length). GH-treated fetuses had heavier mothers and when maternal weight was included as a covariate in the analysis, there was no significant difference between treatment groups that could be attributed to GH treatment. GH infusion to normal fetal sheep does not appear to have a significant effect on feto-placental metabolism or fetal growth.

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EC Jensen, JE Harding, MK Bauer, and PD Gluckman

It has been shown that IGF-I has an anabolic effect in the normal fetus. However, there is evidence to suggest that there may be IGF-I resistance in the growth retarded fetus. Therefore, we investigated the effects of acute IGF-I infusion to chronically catheterised fetal sheep. At 128 days gestation, fetuses underwent a 4 h infusion of IGF-I (50 microg/kg/h). Three groups of animals were studied. Nine normally grown fetuses were studied as controls. Embolised animals (n=8) received microspheres into the uterine vasculature, and animals with spontaneous intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR animals) (n=6) were fetuses found at post mortem to be spontaneously growth restricted. The effects of IGF-I infusion on feto-placental carbohydrate and protein metabolism were similar in our control group to previous similar experiments. IGF-I infusion decreased fetal blood glucose, oxygen, urea and amino-nitrogen concentrations, and inhibited placental lactate production. The same fetal blood metabolite concentrations also fell during IGF-I infusion in the embolised fetuses, but the effect on placental lactate production was not seen. The only effect of IGF-I infusion in the spontaneous IUGR animals was a fall in fetal blood amino-nitrogen concentrations. We conclude that fetal IGF-I infusion does not have the same anabolic effects in the growth retarded fetus as the normal fetus. In addition, the effects of IGF-I were different in the two growth retarded groups. Our data support previous evidence that the growth retarded fetus has altered IGF-I sensitivity, and this may vary depending on the cause, severity and duration of growth retardation.

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RM Kimble, BH Breier, PD Gluckman, and JE Harding

Infants with upper gut atresia often have impaired intrauterine growth and gut function. IGF-I is important in fetal growth and is contained in amniotic fluid. We therefore wanted to test the hypothesis that IGF-I infused into fetal gut would reverse the effects of an upper gut obstruction on gut structure and growth in fetal sheep. At 90 days gestation fetuses (n=6 per group) underwent oesophageal ligation, followed by continuous infusion of IGF-I (1-8 microgram/day) or saline into the gut beyond the ligation until 137 days. Controls underwent sham ligation only. Oesophageal ligation tended to reduce fetal body and organ weights. IGF-I treatment prevented this reduction and increased body length and spleen weight above those of controls. The decrease in bowel wall thickness induced by oesophageal ligation was also prevented by IGF-I treatment. Amniotic fluid IGF-I concentrations did not change over gestation and were higher in the IGF-I treated group. No change in fetal plasma IGF-I concentrations were detectable. We conclude that enterally administered IGF-I may enhance fetal growth and gut development in utero and that IGF-I in amniotic fluid may play a physiological role in gut development in the fetus.

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BW Gallaher, BH Breier, CL Keven, JE Harding, and PD Gluckman

It has been demonstrated in several animal models that undernutrition in utero has significant long lasting effects on subsequent fetal and postnatal development. To address the hypothesis that the insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) may mediate such effects, our study examined whether a period of periconceptual maternal undernutrition could have a lasting influence on the IGF axis in the fetal sheep. Ewes were either allowed to feed ad libitum or kept undernourished from day 60 prior to mating until day 30 after conception, and then both groups were allowed to feed ad libitum. These groups were further divided at day 105 of gestation, either being fed ad libitum or undernourished until day 115 of gestation. Fetal and maternal blood samples were obtained at both day 105 and 115 of gestation. We describe the development of a specific homologous RIA to measure ovine IGF-binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3) in fetal and maternal sheep plasma. Fetal plasma IGFBP-3 and IGF-I concentrations were significantly (P<0.05) reduced at day 115 of gestation after maternal undernutrition. The fetal plasma IGFBP-2 levels were unchanged. The degree of reduction in fetal plasma IGFBP-3 and IGF-I between day 105 and 115 of gestation as a response to acute maternal undernutrition was significantly greater (P<0.05) in fetuses of mothers receiving low periconceptual nutrition. The response of maternal plasma IGFBP-3 and IGF-I to undernutrition did not depend on the level of periconceptual nutrition. Western blot data indicate that changes in either maternal or fetal plasma IGFBP-3 concentrations were not the result of increased proteolytic activity. These results suggest that exposure to maternal periconceptual undernutrition reprograms IGFBP-3 and IGF-I regulation in the developing sheep fetus, altering its response to undernutrition in late gestation.

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SM Woodall, BH Breier, BM Johnston, NS Bassett, R Barnard, and PD Gluckman

Increasing evidence from human epidemiological studies suggests that poor growth before birth is associated with postnatal growth retardation and the development of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. We have shown previously that nutritional deprivation in the pregnant rat leads to intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR), postnatal growth failure, changes in the endocrine parameters of the somatotrophic axis, and to increased blood pressure in later life. In the present study, we investigated whether administration of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) or bovine growth hormone (GH) during pregnancy could prevent IUGR and/or alter long-term outcome. Dams from day 1 of pregnancy throughout gestation received a diet of ad libitum available food or a restricted dietary intake of 30% of ad libitum fed dams. From day 10 of gestation, dams were treated for 10 days with three times daily subcutaneous injections of saline (100 microl), IGF-I (2 micrograms/g body weight) or GH (2 micrograms/g body weight). Maternal weight gain was significantly increased (P<0.001) in ad libitum fed dams treated with GH, (98.9+/-4.73 g) compared with the IGF-I (80.5+/-2.17 g) and saline-treated (70.7+/-2.65 g) groups. There was a small increase in maternal weight gain (P<0.06) in 30% ad libitum fed dams following GH (16.3+/-2.47 g) and IGF-I (15.8+/-1.97 g) treatment compared with saline (9.2+/-1.96 g). Whole spleen, kidney and carcass weights were significantly (P<0.05) increased in ad libitum fed and 30% ad libitum fed dams with GH treatment. Circulating IGF-I was significantly increased (P<0.001) in ad libitum fed dams with both IGF-I (369.6+/-32.33 ng/ml) and GH (457.9+/-33.32 ng/ml) compared with saline treatment (211.7+/-14.02 ng/ml), and with GH (223.4+/-23.72 ng/ml) compared with saline treatment (112.0+/-7.33 ng/ml) in 30% ad libitum fed dams. Circulating GH binding protein (GHBP) levels were significantly reduced (P<0.05) in GH-treated (299.1+/-51.54 ng/ml) compared with saline-treated (503.9+/-62.43 ng/ml) ad libitum fed dams, but were not altered in 30% ad libitum fed dams. There was no significant effect of either IGF-I or GH treatment on fetal weight, placental weight, fetal organ weights or circulating IGF-I levels in both ad libitum fed and 30% ad libitum fed fetuses. Offspring of 30% ad libitum fed dams remained significantly growth retarded postnatally and showed elevated blood pressure in later life. The increased maternal weight gain following IGF-I or GH administration, without an effect on fetal and placental weights, suggests a modification in the mode of maternal nutrient repartitioning during mid to late pregnancy at the expense of the fetus.

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MK Bauer, BB Breier, FH Bloomfield, EC Jensen, PD Gluckman, and JE Harding

Intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR) is a major cause of perinatal mortality and morbidity. Postnatally, growth hormone (GH) increases growth, increases circulating insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I levels, and alters metabolism. Our aim was to determine if GH infusion to IUGR fetal sheep would alter fetal growth and metabolism, and thus provide a potential intra-uterine treatment for the IUGR fetus. We studied three groups of fetuses: control, IUGR+ vehicle and IUGR+GH (n=5 all groups). IUGR was induced by repeated embolisation of the placental vascular bed between 110 and 116 days of gestation (term=145 days). GH (3.5 mg/kg/day) or vehicle was infused in a pulsatile manner from 117 to 127 days of gestation. Embolisation reduced fetal growth rate by 25% (P<0.01) and reduced the weight of the fetal liver (20%), kidney (23%) and thymus (31%; all P<0.05). GH treatment further reduced the weight of the fetal kidneys (32%) and small intestine (35%; both P<0.04), but restored the relative weight of the fetal thymus and liver (P<0.05). Embolisation decreased fetal plasma IGF-I concentrations (48%, P<0.001) and increased IGF binding protein 1 (IGFBP-1) concentrations (737%, P<0.002). GH treatment restored fetal plasma IGF-I concentrations to control levels, while levels in IUGR+vehicle fetuses stayed low (P<0.05 vs control). IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2 concentrations were about sevenfold lower in amniotic fluid than in fetal plasma, but amniotic and plasma concentrations were closely correlated (r=0.75, P<0.0001 and r=0.55 P<0.0001 respectively). Embolisation transiently decreased fetal blood oxygen content (40%, P<0.002), and increased blood lactate concentrations (213%, P<0.04). Both returned to pre-embolisation levels after embolisation stopped, but blood glucose concentrations declined steadily in IUGR+vehicle fetuses. GH treatment maintained fetal blood glucose concentrations at control levels. Our study shows that GH infusion to the IUGR fetal sheep restores fetal IGF-I levels but does not improve fetal growth, and further reduces the fetal kidney and intestine weights. Thus, fetal GH therapy does not seem a promising treatment stratagem for the IUGR fetus.

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V Roelfsema, GB Thomas, H Lin, BH Breier, L Maxwell, MH Oliver, E Heineman, RG Clark, and PD Gluckman

GH treatment can increase the mortality and morbidity of critically ill patients. The mechanisms of these harmful effects of GH are unknown but have been, in part, ascribed to interactions between GH and the immune system. Because GH has pattern-dependent actions we have now compared the dose-related effects of continuous and intermittent GH treatment given with or without an endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide; LPS) challenge. Male Wistar rats (n=6 per group) were treated for 5 days with recombinant human GH (0, 10, 100 or 1000 microg/kg per day) using either continuous s.c. infusion by osmotic minipump or intermittent twice daily s.c. injections. On day 4, endotoxin (5 mg/kg, i.p.) was injected and the animals monitored for a further 16 h. LPS administration alone led to neutrophilia and lymphopoenia, with increased plasma concentrations of urea, cholesterol, triglyceride, insulin and leptin, and decreased levels of IGF-I. High dose GH infusion (1000 microg/kg per day) followed by LPS caused greater increases in plasma urea, cholesterol, triglyceride, sodium and magnesium, but lower plasma glucose and insulin levels, than treatment with LPS alone. In contrast, twice daily injections of GH did not enhance these effects of endotoxin. In conclusion, the effects of endotoxin on plasma electrolytes, lipids, urea, glucose and insulin are differentially affected by the pattern of GH administration in the rat.

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P.D. Gluckman, P.C.H. Morel, G.R. Ambler, B.H. Breier, H.T. Blair, and S.N. McCutcheon


Fetal growth is normally constrained by maternal factors. This constraint is demonstrated by the usual inverse linear relationship between litter size and mean fetal weight. Cross-breeding experiments between mice of lines selected for high or low plasma insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) levels suggested that elevations in maternal IGF-I abolish (P <0.01) this constraining effect and reverse the usual positive relationship between fetal and placental size in late gestation. This was confirmed by treating mice and rats throughout pregnancy with IGF-I. In normal mice and in low IGF-I line mice treatment with IGF-I 10μg 8-hourly s.c. from day 1 to 19 of pregnancy) abolished maternal constraint whereas 0.9% (w/v) NaCl treatment did not. In Wistar rats osmotic pumps were implanted to deliver IGF-I (1μg/g body weight per day), bovine GH (bGH; 0.6μg/g body weight per day) or saline from day 1 to 19 of pregnancy. IGF-I therapy but not bGH or saline abolished (P < 0.01) maternal constraint and altered (P <0.01) the relationship between placental and fetal weight.

When high or low IGF-I line mice embryos were transplanted into a normal line of mice, the expected negative relationship (P <0.05) between mean fetal weight and litter size was maintained. However the embryos of the high line were heavier (P <0.05) than those from the low line irrespective of fetal number, suggesting a direct role for IGF-I in the regulation of fetal growth.

Thus both endogenous and exogenous elevations in maternal IGF-I indirectly promote fetal growth either by altering nutrient delivery to the placenta or by affecting placental function.