We studied the influence of dietary protein concentration (PC) on the adaptation mechanism of maternal glucose metabolism to gestation, and on maternal body weight (BW) gain using pregnant rats fed 4% (low protein, LP), 10% (medium protein, MP) or 20% (high protein, HP) dietary protein concentration. Feed (FI), energy (EI) and protein (PI) intakes were recorded. Plasma glucose, insulin and GH were determined, and insulin:glucose (insulin resistance) and insulin:GH ratios computed. Correlation and regression analyses were used to determine the physiological relationships between metabolic and ponderal variables. MP dams with greater FI and EI (12%), and lower PI (44%) than HP dams showed similar maternal and fetal growth performance because of the maintained energy efficiency (EE). LP dams, with similar FI and EI, and lower PI (81%) than HP dams, failed to catch up due to the low EE. PC exerted a non-linear influence on BW gain, insulin and GH, through EI and EE modifications. The EI linearly influenced hormone concentrations with the maximum and minimum hormone response in MP and LP dams, respectively. Insulin resistance increased as PC decreased, whereas the GH lipolytic effect appeared to predominate over insulin action. Circulating hormones and metabolites affected nutrient partitioning between dam and fetus, with the result that the competing demands for materno-fetal growth of HP and MP dams, but not the LP dams, were satisfied. A deeper knowledge of the nature of the materno-fetal energy relationships will enhance the manipulation of the growth performance of the fetus in several animal species. © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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