Nutrition and fetal growth: paradoxical effects in the overnourished adolescent sheep

Jacqueline Wallace, D A Bourke, Raymond Aitken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Inappropriate maternal nutrient intake at key developmental timepoints during ovine pregnancy has a profound influence on the outcome of pregnancy and aspects of postnatal productivity. However, the responses to alterations in maternal nutrition in adult sheep are often highly variable and inconsistent between studies. The growing adolescent sheep provides a new, robust and nutritionally sensitive paradigm with which to study the causes, consequences and reversibility of prenatal growth restriction. Overnourishing the adolescent dam to promote rapid maternal growth throughout pregnancy results in a major restriction in placental mass, and leads to a significant decrease in birthweight relative to moderately fed, normally growing adolescents of equivalent gynaecological age. Maternal insulin and IGF-I concentrations are increased from an early stage of gestation in overnourished adolescent dams and these hormones ensure that the anabolic drive required to promote maternal tissue synthesis is initiated at a time when the nutrient requirements of the gravid uterus are low. The major restriction in fetal growth in rapidly growing darns occurs irrespective of high concentrations of essential nutrients in the maternal circulation and suggests that the small size or altered metabolic and transport capacity of the placenta is the primary constraint to fetal growth. The decrease in placental weight in the overnourished animals reflects a significant reduction in both fetal cotyledon number and mean cotyledon weight. The role of nutritionally mediated alterations in progesterone and the components of the IGF system in this early pregnancy placental phenomenon are being investigated. Nutritional switch-over studies have demonstrated that reducing maternal nutrient intake at the end of the first third of pregnancy can stimulate placental growth and enhance pregnancy outcome, but increasing nutrient intake at this time has a deleterious effect on placental development and fetal growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-399
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Reproduction and Fertility
Publication statusPublished - 1999




Dive into the research topics of 'Nutrition and fetal growth: paradoxical effects in the overnourished adolescent sheep'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this