Metabolic adaptations to change of nutrition at birth

Biol Neonate. 1990:58 Suppl 1:3-15. doi: 10.1159/000243294.


Birth represents a dramatic change of nutrition from a fetal diet rich in carbohydrates and poor in fat to a neonatal diet rich in fat and poor in carbohydrates. Gluconeogenesis and ketogenesis are absent or very low in the fetal liver when the mother is correctly fed, and these metabolic pathways emerge after birth to reach adult values after 24 h. Gluconeogenesis increases rapidly in the liver of the newborn in parallel with the appearance of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK), the rate-limiting enzyme of this metabolic pathway. The rise in plasma glucagon, the fall in plasma insulin and the resulting increase in liver cAMP which occur immediately after birth are the factors which induce the activation of liver PEPCK gene transcription. The appearance of ketogenesis is also controlled by the changes of plasma insulin and glucagon that increase the capacity for liver fatty acid oxidation by decreasing lipogenesis and malonyl-CoA concentration, by reducing the sensitivity of carnitine palmitoyl-CoA I to the inhibitory influence of malonyl-CoA, and by activating hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA synthase by desuccinylation. Once liver PEPCK has reached adult value, i.e. 12 h after birth, other factors are involved in the regulation of hepatic gluconeogenesis. Indeed, the supply of gluconeogenic substrates and of free fatty acid is of crucial importance to support a high rate of gluconeogenesis and to maintain normoglycemia in the newborn. In the liver, fatty acid oxidation provides essential co-factors (acetyl-CoA, NADH and ATP) to support gluconeogenesis, and in peripheral tissue fatty acid oxidation inhibits glucose oxidation and stimulates the production of gluconeogenic precursors (lactate, pyruvate and alanine). Similar mechanisms are operative in human newborn. A defective hepatic fatty acid oxidation is likely to explain the frequent hypoglycemia observed in small-for-date neonates. Administration of oral triglycerides is an efficient mean to prevent hypoglycemia in these newborns.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Gluconeogenesis
  • Humans
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn / metabolism*
  • Ketone Bodies / biosynthesis
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Fatty Acids
  • Ketone Bodies