British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Effect of reduced maternal protein intake in pregnancy in the rat on the fatty acid composition of brain, liver, plasma, heart and lung phospholipids of the offspring after weaning

Graham C. Burdgea1 c1, Emmanuelle Delangea1, Ludivine Duboisa1, Rebecca L. Dunna1, Mark A. Hansona2, Alan A. Jacksona1 and Philip C. Caldera1

a1 Institute of Human Nutrition, Biomedical Sciences Building (62), University of Southampton, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton SO16 7PX, UK

a2 Centre for Fetal Origins of Adult Disease, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK


Reduced protein intake during pregnancy decreased maternal hepatic and plasma docosahexaenoic acid concentrations and impaired docosahexaenoic acid accumulation into fetal brain in the rat. The present study investigated whether restriction of maternal protein intake during pregnancy in the rat alters membrane phospholipid fatty acid composition in the offspring after weaning. Female rats (six per group) were mated and fed diets containing either 180 or 90 g protein/kg throughout pregnancy. Mothers were transferred to standard chow after delivery and the litters reduced to eight pups. Weaning was at 28 d and pups were killed 5 to 6 d later. Tissue weights or membrane total phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) concentrations in the offspring did not differ between dietary groups. There were significant differences between the 180 and 90 g/kg groups in liver, brain, lung and heart fatty acid composition that differed between tissues and phospholipid classes. For example, docosahexaenoic and arachidonic acid concentrations were 23 and 10 % lower respectively in hepatic PC, but not PE, in the 90 g/kg group. In brain, docosahexaenoic acid concentration was 17 % lower in PC, but not PE, while arachidonic acid content was 21 % greater in PE but unchanged in PC. The greatest differences were in unsaturated fatty acids, which suggests alterations to desaturase activities and/or the specificity of phospholipid biosynthesis. These results suggest that restricted maternal protein intake during pregnancy results in persistent alterations to membrane fatty acid content.

(Received December 19 2002)

(Revised March 19 2003)

(Accepted April 08 2003)


c1 *Corresponding author: Dr G. C. Burdge, fax +44 23 80594383, email