Maternal undernutrition in cows impairs ovarian and cardiovascular systems in their offspring

Francesca Mossa, Fiona Carter, Siobhan W. Walsh, David A. Kenny, George W. Smith, Janet L.H. Ireland, Thomas B. Hildebrandt, Pat Lonergan, James J. Ireland, Alexander C.O. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Citations (Scopus)


Severe prenatal undernutrition is usually associated with low birth weights in offspring and disorders including hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. Whether alterations in maternal nutrition insufficient to impair birth weight or prenatal growth impact the cardiovascular, stress, or metabolic systems is unknown. In addition, little is known about the effects of maternal dietary restriction on development of the reproductive system in mammals. Here, we use the bovine model, which has a gestational length and birth rate similar to humans, to show that offspring from nutritionally restricted dams (during the first trimester) were born with identical birth weights and had similar postnatal growth rates (to 95 wk of age), puberty, glucose metabolism, and responses to stress compared to offspring from control mothers. However, an increase in maternal testosterone concentrations was detected during dietary restriction, and these dams had offspring with a diminished ovarian reserve (as assessed by a reduction in antral follicle count, reduced concentrations of anti-Mü llerian hormone, and increased follicle-stimulating hormone concentrations), enlarged aorta, and increased arterial blood pressure compared with controls. Our study links transient maternal undernutrition and enhanced maternal androgen production with a diminished ovarian reserve as well as potential suboptimal fertility, enlarged aortic trunk size, and enhanced blood pressure independent of alterations in birth weight, postnatal growth, or stress response and glucose tolerance. The implications are that relatively mild transient reductions in maternal nutrition during the first trimester of pregnancy (even those that do not affect gross development) should be avoided to ensure healthy development of reproductive and cardiovascular systems in offspring.

Original languageEnglish
Article number92
JournalBiology of Reproduction
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Arterial blood pressure
  • Developmental origins of health and disease
  • Fetal development
  • Follicular development
  • Ovarian reserve
  • Ruminants


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