Rates of myogenesis and myofiber numbers are reduced in late gestation IUGR fetal sheep

J Endocrinol. 2019 Dec 19;244(2):339-352. doi: 10.1530/JOE-19-0273.


Intrauterine growth-restricted (IUGR) fetuses are born with reduced skeletal muscle mass. We hypothesized that reduced rates of myogenesis would contribute to fewer and smaller myofibers in IUGR fetal hindlimb muscle compared to the normally growing fetus. We tested this hypothesis in IUGR fetal sheep with progressive placental insufficiency produced by exposing pregnant ewes to elevated ambient temperatures from 38 to 116 days gestation (dGA; term = 147 dGA). Surgically catheterized control (CON, n = 8) and IUGR (n = 13) fetal sheep were injected with intravenous 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine (BrdU) prior to muscle collection (134 dGA). Rates of myogenesis, defined as the combined processes of myoblast proliferation, differentiation, and fusion into myofibers, were determined in biceps femoris (BF), tibialis anterior (TA), and flexor digitorum superficialis (FDS) muscles. Total myofiber number was determined for the entire cross-section of the FDS muscle. In IUGR fetuses, the number of BrdU+ myonuclei per myofiber cross-section was lower in BF, TA, and FDS (P < 0.05), total myonuclear number per myofiber cross-section was lower in BF and FDS (P < 0.05), and total myofiber number was lower in FDS (P < 0.005) compared to CON. mRNA expression levels of cyclins, cyclin-dependent protein kinases, and myogenic regulatory factors were lower (P < 0.05), and inhibitors of the cell cycle were higher (P < 0.05) in IUGR BF compared to CON. Markers of apoptosis were not different in IUGR BF muscle. These results show that in IUGR fetuses, reduced rates of myogenesis produce fewer numbers of myonuclei, which may limit hypertrophic myofiber growth. Fewer myofibers of smaller size contribute to smaller muscle mass in the IUGR fetus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Bromodeoxyuridine
  • Female
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / physiopathology*
  • Fetus / embryology*
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Muscle Development*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / embryology*
  • Placental Insufficiency / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal
  • Sheep
  • Temperature


  • Insulin
  • Bromodeoxyuridine