A rat model of perinatal malnutrition was designed to study the role of nutrition in postnatal somatic growth and insulin stores until adulthood. Maternal food restriction (50%) from day 15 of pregnancy resulted in intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) in the offspring. The outcome of moderate or severe IUGR was investigated. Neonates with moderate IUGR normally nourished postnatally showed normal body and organ weights and normal insulin contents in adulthood. Offspring with severe IUGR normally nourished postnatally also rapidly recovered normal body and pancreatic weights, but liver and kidney weights were significantly reduced at adult age. Malnutrition until weaning in offspring with severe IUGR induced marked growth retardation (50%) in body and organ weights at weaning. Although pancreatic weight recovered at adult age, body, liver and kidney weights were irreversibly affected, despite several months of normal nutrition. Furthermore, severe IUGR at birth resulted in decreased insulin content at adult age, irrespective of postnatal nutrition. In conclusion, this animal model demonstrates that normalization of adult size can be dissociated from organ growth and also that altered insulin stores in adulthood are more dependent on the severity of IUGR at birth than on postnatal catch-up in organ growth.

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