In a sheep model of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) produced from placental insufficiency, late gestation fetuses had smaller skeletal muscle mass, myofiber area, and slower muscle protein accretion rates compared with normally growing fetuses. We hypothesized that IUGR fetal muscle develops adaptations that divert amino acids (AAs) from protein accretion and activate pathways that conserve substrates for other organs. We placed hindlimb arterial and venous catheters into late gestation IUGR (n = 10) and control (CON, n = 8) fetal sheep and included an external iliac artery flow probe to measure hindlimb AA uptake rates. Arterial and venous plasma samples and biceps femoris muscle were analyzed by mass spectrometry-based metabolomics. IUGR fetuses had greater abundance of metabolites enriched within the alanine, aspartate, and glutamate metabolism pathway compared with CON. Net uptake rates of branched-chain AA (BCAA) were lower by 42%-73%, and muscle ammoniagenic AAs (alanine, glycine, and glutamine) were lower by 107%-158% in IUGR hindlimbs versus CON. AA uptake rates correlated with hindlimb weight; the smallest hindlimbs showed net release of ammoniagenic AAs. Gene expression levels indicated a decrease in BCAA catabolism in IUGR muscle. Plasma purines were lower and plasma uric acid was higher in IUGR versus CON, possibly a reflection of ATP conservation. We conclude that IUGR skeletal muscle has lower BCAA uptake and develops adaptations that divert AAs away from protein accretion into alternative pathways that sustain global energy production and nitrogen disposal in the form of ammoniagenic AAs for metabolism in other organs.
Keywords: fetal growth restriction; metabolomics; skeletal muscle.