Fetal adaptations to periods of substrate deprivation can result in the programming of glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and metabolic dysfunction in later life. Placental insufficiency can be associated with either sparing or sacrifice of fetal liver growth, and these different responses may have different metabolic consequences. It is unclear what intrahepatic mechanisms determine the differential responses of the fetal liver to substrate restriction. We investigated the effects of placental restriction (PR) on liver growth and the hepatic expression of SLC2A1, IGF1, IGF2, IGF1R, IGF2R, PPARGC1A, PPARA, PRKAA1, PRKAA2, PCK2, and HSDL1 mRNA in fetal sheep at 140–145 days of gestation. A mean gestational arterial partial pressure of oxygen less than 17 mmHg was defined as hypoxic, and a relative liver of weight more than 2 SD below the mean liver weight of controls was defined as reduced liver growth. Fetuses therefore were defined as control-normoxic (C-N; n = 9), PR-normoxic (PR-N; n = 7), PR-hypoxic (PR-H; n = 8), or PR-hypoxic reduced liver growth (PR-H RLG; n = 4). Hepatic SLC2A1 mRNA expression was highest (P < 0.05) in the PR-H fetuses, in which liver growth was maintained. Expression of IGF1 mRNA was decreased (P < 0.05) only in the PR-H RLG group. Hepatic expression of HSDL1, PPARGC1A, and PCK2 mRNA also were increased (P < 0.05) in the PR-H RLG fetuses. The present study highlights that intrahepatic responses to fetal substrate restriction may exist that protect the liver from decreased growth and, potentially, from a decreased responsiveness to the actions of insulin in postnatal life.
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Vol. 80 • No. 6