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Poor prenatal nutrition permanently damages function of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas

Scientists at Joslin Diabetes Center have discovered one reason why infants with low birth weight have a high potential of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. In studies of mice, the researchers found that poor prenatal nutrition impairs the pancreas's ability to later secrete enough insulin in response to blood glucose.

"The bottom line is that if you don't have delivery of enough nutrients from the mother to the baby, the baby's pancreatic cells will be programmed abnormally," said principal investigator Mary-Elizabeth Patti, M.D., Assistant Investigator in Joslin's Research Section on Cellular and Molecular Physiology and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "The effect doesn't show up until later on -- usually not until adolescence or adulthood.

"Many people believe we don't have much of a prenatal nourishment problem in the United States," she added. "But poor nutrition of a developing baby can occur in many ways other than inadequate nutrition of the mother. It also can occur with abnormal development of the placenta and its blood vessels, or high blood pressure, which damages vessels." In addition, many other factors can result in intrauterine growth restriction and low birth weight.

The Joslin study, published in the March edition of Diabetes, reinforces what scientists have known from previous studies in humans: Infants with low birth weight -- typically defined as under five and one-half pounds -- have a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

To understand the reason, the researchers designed a series of experiments. Using ordinary mice that were not inbred or genetically altered in any way, they mated females with males, dating the day of their pregnancy, which lasts three weeks. They separated the mothers into two groups. The control group ate as much chow as they wanted during the entire pregnancy. The other group also was fully nourished during the first two weeks but undernourished during
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Source:Joslin Diabetes Center


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