At birth, the endocrine pancreas must assume a glucoregulatory role if the neonate is to survive the transition from parenteral to enteral nutrition. In species like the horse, neonatal hypoglycaemia is common, which suggests that the glucoregulatory mechanisms are not always fully competent at birth. Hence, this study examined pancreatic beta cell function in newborn foals during nutritional adaptation over the first 10 days post partum. Over a 48 h period at three time intervals after birth (days 1-2, 5-6 and 9-10 post partum), the beta cell responses to suckling and to intravenous administration of glucose, arginine and saline were measured in seven normal pony foals. Basal plasma concentrations of proinsulin, but not insulin or glucose, increased significantly between days 1 and 10. Suckling caused a gradual increase in plasma glucose, which was accompanied by a significant increase in plasma insulin concentrations 15 min after the onset of suckling on days 5 and 9, but not day 1. There was no significant change in plasma proinsulin concentrations in response to suckling at any age. At all ages studied, glucose and arginine administration stimulated an increase in the plasma concentrations of insulin and proinsulin; these beta cell responses did not change significantly with postnatal age. The insulin responses to glucose were significantly greater than those of arginine at each time period. Glucose clearance was significantly slower on day 1 than subsequently. Proinsulin and glucose, but not insulin, concentrations decreased significantly after saline administration at all three ages. At each time period, there was a significant positive relationship between the plasma insulin and proinsulin concentrations, the slope of which was significantly shallower on days 1-2 than subsequently. These results show that equine beta cells are responsive to glucose and arginine and release both insulin and proinsulin during the immediate postnatal period. They also suggest that newborn foals may be insulin resistant on the first day after birth.
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