Placental insufficiency is associated with reduced supply of amino acids to the fetus and leads to intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). IUGR fetuses are characterized by lower glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, smaller pancreatic islets with less β-cells, and impaired pancreatic vascularity. To test whether supplemental amino acids infused into the IUGR fetus could improve these complications of IUGR we used acute (hours) and chronic (11 d) direct fetal amino acid infusions into a sheep model of placental insufficiency and IUGR near the end of gestation. IUGR fetuses had attenuated acute amino acid-stimulated insulin secretion compared with control fetuses. These results were confirmed in isolated IUGR pancreatic islets. After the chronic fetal amino acid infusion, fetal glucose-stimulated insulin secretion and islet size were restored to control values. These changes were associated with normalization of fetal pancreatic vascularity and higher fetal pancreatic vascular endothelial growth factor A protein concentrations. These results demonstrate that decreased fetal amino acid supply contributes to the pathogenesis of pancreatic islet defects in IUGR. Moreover, the results show that pancreatic islets in IUGR fetuses retain their ability to respond to increased amino acids near the end of gestation after chronic fetal growth restriction.
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