Lipid metabolism during pregnancy and its implications for fetal growth

Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2014;15(1):24-31. doi: 10.2174/1389201015666140330192345.


More glucose crosses the placenta than any other substrate, but correlations between its concentration in maternal plasma and fetal growth are not found consistently. The accumulation of maternal fat depots and hyperlipidemia are the two principal changes in lipid metabolism during pregnancy. Although lipids cross the placenta with difficulty, maternal plasma triacylglycerols (TAG) and non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) correlate with fetal lipids, fetal growth and fat mass under certain conditions. In intrauterine growth restriction, impaired placental transfer of lipophilic compounds (long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and lipophilic vitamins) seems to underpin metabolic dysfunction and decreased birth weight. In gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), maternal TAG and NEFA levels correlate with neonatal anthropometric measures. In GDM, adipocyte fatty acid-binding protein in fetuses correlated with neonatal fat mass; changes in maternal or cord blood leptin, retinol binding protein 4 and adiponectin concentrations have been related to neonatal fat mass or birth weight, although their importance remains to be investigated. The angiopoietin-like protein 4 (ANGPTL-4) is secreted from adipose tissue, liver and placenta, and irreversibly inhibits lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity. Maternal plasma ANGPTL-4 is decreased in GDM, and it has been proposed to be responsible for an increase in placental LPL activity, which would facilitate a greater fatty acid placental transfer, contributing to the higher fetal fat accumulation. Thus, while evidence suggesting major involvement of maternal lipid metabolism in fetal adiposity and growth exists, the precise mechanisms remain to be elucidated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diabetes, Gestational / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Pregnancy / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy Complications / metabolism*