Post-weaning protein malnutrition in the rat produces short and long term metabolic impairment, in contrast to earlier and later periods

Int J Biol Sci. 2008;4(6):422-32. doi: 10.7150/ijbs.4.422. Epub 2008 Nov 19.


Malnutrition during gestation and lactation modifies metabolic strategies and leads to metabolic disease in adult life. Studies in human populations suggest that malnutrition during infancy may also induce long term metabolic disorders.The present study investigated if post-weaning and a late period of development might be sensitive for long term metabolic impairment. Hereto male Wistar rats were malnourished with a low protein diet (6%), during gestation and lactation (MGL), from weaning to 55 days (MPW) or during adulthood from 90 to 120 days (MA). Control rats (C) were fed with a regular diet (23% protein). We determine plasma concentrations of insulin, glucagon, triacylglycerols (TAG), free fatty acids (FFA), and liver glycogen after a Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT).Independent of the age of onset, malnutrition induced low body weight. Early and post-weaning malnutrition produced impaired glucose tolerance and low values of TAG, also in MPW induced low values of insulin and glucagon. At 90 days, after balanced diet rehabilitation, the MGL group showed a similar glucose tolerance test as the controls but display low values of insulin, while the MPW group exhibited high levels of glucose and TAG, and low values of insulin, glucagon, FFA and hepatic glycogen. At 180 days, after balanced rehabilitation only MPW rats showed metabolic alterations. Malnutrition during adult life (MA) did not produce metabolic disturbances. Surprisingly the results uncover the post-weaning stage as a vulnerable period to malnutrition that induces long lasting metabolic alterations and deficiency in pancreatic function.

Keywords: critical period; development; insulin; metabolic disease; nutritional rehabilitation; pancreas..

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Fatty Acids / blood*
  • Female
  • Glucagon / blood*
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / blood*
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / metabolism
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Time Factors
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Weaning


  • Blood Glucose
  • Fatty Acids
  • Insulin
  • Triglycerides
  • Glycogen
  • Glucagon