Aims/hypothesis: In a recently developed rat model, maternal food restriction from day 15 of pregnancy until weaning induced low birth weight and a 70% reduction of beta-cell mass in the offspring at day 21 after birth. Subsequent renutrition from weaning was insufficient to fully restore beta-cell mass in young adult rats. The aim of this study is to investigate the long-term consequences of early malnutrition on beta-cell mass and function.
Methods: Oral glucose tolerance tests were done in 3- and 12-month-old animals and beta-cell mass and apoptosis were determined by morphometrical measurements on pancreatic sections. The specific impact of postnatal malnutrition was studied by comparing control animals (C group) with animals malnourished during their fetal life only (R/C group), and animals malnourished during fetal life and until weaning (R group).
Results: In 3-month-old R/C animals beta-cell mass reached 8.0 +/- 1.5 mg with no further increase until 12 months (8.1 +/- 1.5 mg), compared with 9.3 +/- 1.9 mg in control rats. Twelve-month-old R/C animals showed normal plasma insulin responses and borderline glucose tolerance. In R animals, apoptosis reached 1.9 +/- 0.4% of the beta cells at 3 months, compared with 0.7 +/- 0.5% in control rats, and beta-cell mass did not increase between 3 and 12 months (4.7 +/- 0.8 mg at 12 months). In aged control and R animals, apoptosis affected 8% of the beta cells. At 12 months only, R animals showed profound insulinopenia and marked glucose intolerance.
Conclusion/interpretation: In conclusion, perinatal malnutrition profoundly impairs the programming of beta-cell development. In animals with decreased beta-cell mass the additional demand placed by ageing on the beta cells entails glucose intolerance since beta-cell mass does not expand and apoptosis is increased.