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BackgroundWe determined whether maternal nutrient restriction (MNR) in Guinea pigs leading to fetal growth restriction (FGR) impacts markers for tissue hypoxia, implicating a mechanistic role for chronic hypoxia.MethodsGuinea pigs were fed ad libitum (Control) or 70% of the control diet before pregnancy, switching to 90% at mid-pregnancy (MNR). Near term, hypoxyprobe-1 (HP-1), a marker of tissue hypoxia, was injected into pregnant sows. Fetuses were then necropsied and liver, kidney, and placental tissues were processed for erythropoietin (EPO), EPO-receptor (EPOR), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) protein levels, and for HP-1 immunoreactivity (IR).ResultsFGR-MNR fetuses were 36% smaller with asymmetrical growth restriction compared to controls. EPO and VEGF protein levels were increased in the female FGR-MNR fetuses, providing support for hypoxic stimulus and linkage to increased erythropoiesis, but not in the male FGR-MNR fetuses, possibly reflecting a weaker link between oxygenation and erythropoiesis. HP-1 IR was increased in the liver and kidneys of both male and female FGR-MNR fetuses as an index of local tissue hypoxia, but with no changes in the placenta.ConclusionChronic hypoxia is likely to be an important signaling mechanism for the decreased fetal growth seen with maternal undernutrition and appears to be post-placental in nature.