Aims/hypothesis: People with low birthweight have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus in adulthood. The mechanistic basis of this phenomenon is not known. Here we investigate the effect of early growth restriction on the expression of insulin-signalling proteins in skeletal muscle in a human cohort and a rat model.
Methods: We recruited 20 young men with low birthweight (mean birthweight 2702+/-202 g) and 20 age-matched control subjects (mean birthweight 3801+/-99 g). Biopsies were obtained from the vastus lateralis muscle and protein expression of selected insulin-signalling proteins was determined. Rats used for this study were male offspring born to dams fed a standard (20%) protein diet or a low (8%) protein diet during pregnancy and lactation. Protein expression was determined in soleus muscle from adult offspring.
Results: Low-birthweight subjects showed reduced muscle expression of protein kinase C (PKC)zeta, p85alpha, p110beta and GLUT4. PKCzeta, GLUT4 and p85 were also reduced in the muscle of rats fed a low-protein diet. Other proteins studied were unchanged in low-birthweight humans and in rats fed a low-protein diet when compared with control groups.
Conclusions/interpretation: We found decreased expression of specific insulin-signalling proteins in low-birthweight subjects compared to controls. These changes precede the onset of impaired glucose tolerance. The similarity of protein expression profile in the men with low birthweight compared to that of the offspring of rats fed a low-protein diet suggests that the rodent model is an accurate representation of the human situation. It also provides a potential mechanistic explanation as to why the fetal environment plays an important role in determining risk of developing type 2 diabetes.