Maternal undernutrition during pregnancy has negative effects on fetal development and offspring health. However, the effect of maternal undernutrition about the time of conception on neonatal outcome is not clear. We investigated the impact of ewe undernutrition during the periconceptional period on offspring body weight and cortisol and insulin concentrations at birth and the insulin response to a glucose challenge and the cortisol response to a corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) challenge at 10 weeks of age. Ewes (76+/-1 kg) were fed 70% (restricted) or 110% (control) maintenance requirements from 28 days prior until 7 days after mating and characteristics of their lambs were assessed. Restricted ewes lost 2.6+/-0.3 kg (n=35) over the treatment period compared to control ewes which gained 1.7+/-0.3 kg (n=31) (P<0.01). Male lambs born to ewes that were nutritionally restricted had significantly lower plasma glucose concentrations at birth and a higher insulin response to the glucose challenge at 10 weeks; female offspring were not affected. Lamb weight and cortisol response to CRH at 10 weeks was unaffected by treatment. We conclude that a short period of maternal undernutrition about the time of conception did not affect the adrenal function of offspring but that there was a significant negative effect on the glucose-insulin system of male but not female offspring.
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