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Reduced fetal vitamin D status by maternal undernutrition during discrete gestational windows in sheep

  • J. K. Cleal (a1), M. R. Hargreaves (a1), K. R. Poore (a1), J. C. Y. Tang (a2), W. D. Fraser (a2) (a3), M. A. Hanson (a1) and L. R. Green (a1)...


Placental transport of vitamin D and other nutrients (e.g. amino acids, fats and glucose) to the fetus is sensitive to maternal and fetal nutritional cues. We studied the effect of maternal calorific restriction on fetal vitamin D status and the placental expression of genes for nutrient transport [aromatic T-type amino acid transporter-1 (TAT-1); triglyceride hydrolase/lipoprotein uptake facilitator lipoprotein lipase (LPL)] and vitamin D homeostasis [CYP27B1; vitamin D receptor (VDR)], and their association with markers of fetal cardiovascular function and skeletal muscle growth. Pregnant sheep received 100% total metabolizable energy (ME) requirements (control), 40% total ME requirements peri-implantation [PI40, 1–31 days of gestation (dGA)] or 50% total ME requirements in late gestation (L, 104–127 dGA). Fetal, but not maternal, plasma 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25OHD) concentration was lower in PI40 and L maternal undernutrition groups (P<0.01) compared with the control group at 0.86 gestation. PI40 group placental CYP27B1 messenger RNA (mRNA) levels were increased (P<0.05) compared with the control group. Across all groups, higher fetal plasma 25OHD concentration was associated with higher skeletal muscle myofibre and capillary density (P<0.05). In the placenta, higher VDR mRNA levels were associated with higher TAT-1 (P<0.05) and LPL (P<0.01) mRNA levels. In the PI40 maternal undernutrition group only, reduced fetal plasma 25OHD concentration may be mediated in part by altered placental CYP27B1. The association between placental mRNA levels of VDR and nutrient transport genes suggests a way in which the placenta may integrate nutritional cues in the face of maternal dietary challenges and alter fetal physiology.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: L. R. Green, Institute of Developmental Sciences, University of Southampton, 887 Southampton General Hospital, Coxford Road, Southampton, Hampshire SO16 6YD, UK. (Email:


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