Lipoprotein metabolism in pregnancy, fat transport to the fetus, and the effects of diabetes

Biol Neonate. 1986;50(6):297-317. doi: 10.1159/000242614.


The objective of this paper is to review the extent and mechanisms of lipoprotein alterations in pregnancy, present new data relating to placental lipid transport in normal humans and diabetic animals and consider possible effects on fetal growth and development in normal and diabetic pregnancy. The concentration of all lipoprotein fractions increases during pregnancy. VLDL cholesterol and triglyceride increase 2.5-fold over prepregnancy levels and LDL cholesterol increases 1.6-fold, all with peak levels at term. HDL cholesterol is maximally increased in midgestation by 1.45-fold and subsequently declines to 1.15-fold at term. The mechanisms of these lipoprotein changes have not been studied in humans but the hypertriglyceridemia in animal models is related to enhanced VLDL entry into the circulation. In addition, diminished adipose tissue lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity in late gestation may cause a rerouting of triglyceride fatty acids to other tissues such as muscle and uterus for oxidation, rather than storage, since triglyceride transport is not reduced in pregnancy. All of these changes appear to be sex hormone mediated. In diabetic pregnancies, the available data indicate that triglyceride concentrations are increased and HDL cholesterol concentrations are decreased with reference to lipoproteins in nondiabetic pregnant women. Previously unpublished data show that a transplacental FFA gradient exists across the umbilical circulation in the direction of the fetus and is proportional to the maternal FFA concentration. No gradient is seen for triglyceride or total plasma cholesterol. However, transport of unmeasured amounts of triglyceride fatty acids may still occur via placental LPL and be exaggerated in diabetes where LPL declines in adipose tissue but not in placenta. The mechanism of transplacental cholesterol transport remains to be defined. Preliminary studies suggest that it depends on HDL as well as LDL since both can provide cholesterol for placental progesterone synthesis. In addition, fetal weight and length are associated with maternal apoproteins A-I and A-II, both major apoproteins of HDL. By lowering HDL in pregnancy, diabetes mellitus could negatively affect these relationships. In conclusion, sex hormone mediated modifications of lipoprotein physiology are described in pregnancy which may enhance triglyceride fatty acid transport to muscle for oxidation and LDL and HDL cholesterol delivery to growing maternal and fetal tissues, a process that diabetes could globally disrupt.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development
  • Female
  • Fetus / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Lipoproteins / metabolism*
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pregnancy / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy in Diabetics / metabolism*


  • Lipoproteins