Inflammatory-induced hibernation in the fetus: priming of fetal sheep metabolism correlates with developmental brain injury

PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e29503. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029503. Epub 2011 Dec 29.


Prenatal inflammation is considered an important factor contributing to preterm birth and neonatal mortality and morbidity. The impact of prenatal inflammation on fetal bioenergetic status and the correlation of specific metabolites to inflammatory-induced developmental brain injury are unknown. We used a global metabolomics approach to examine plasma metabolites differentially regulated by intrauterine inflammation. Preterm-equivalent sheep fetuses were randomized to i.v. bolus infusion of either saline-vehicle or LPS. Blood samples were collected at baseline 2 h, 6 h and daily up to 10 days for metabolite quantification. Animals were killed at 10 days after LPS injection, and brain injury was assessed by histopathology. We detected both acute and delayed effects of LPS on fetal metabolism, with a long-term down-regulation of fetal energy metabolism. Within the first 3 days after LPS, 121 metabolites were up-regulated or down-regulated. A transient phase (4-6 days), in which metabolite levels recovered to baseline, was followed by a second phase marked by an opposing down-regulation of energy metabolites, increased pO(2) and increased markers of inflammation and ADMA. The characteristics of the metabolite response to LPS in these two phases, defined as 2 h to 2 days and at 6-9 days, respectively, were strongly correlated with white and grey matter volumes at 10 days recovery. Based on these results we propose a novel concept of inflammatory-induced hibernation of the fetus. Inflammatory priming of fetal metabolism correlated with measures of brain injury, suggesting potential for future biomarker research and the identification of therapeutic targets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute-Phase Reaction / blood
  • Acute-Phase Reaction / complications
  • Acute-Phase Reaction / embryology
  • Acute-Phase Reaction / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Arteries / drug effects
  • Arteries / embryology
  • Arteries / physiopathology
  • Blood Gas Analysis
  • Brain Injuries / blood
  • Brain Injuries / embryology*
  • Brain Injuries / metabolism*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Fetus / drug effects
  • Fetus / metabolism*
  • Fetus / pathology
  • Fetus / physiopathology*
  • Hibernation / drug effects
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Inflammation / blood
  • Inflammation / pathology*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Metabolome / drug effects
  • Sheep / blood
  • Sheep / embryology*
  • Vital Signs / drug effects


  • Lipopolysaccharides