1. In developing countries, malnutrition begins during pregnancy and lactation. Glucose intolerance is a problem of importance during protein-energy malnutrition (PEM). We therefore studied glucose homeostasis in rats weaned from undernourished mothers.
2. On weaning, 156 mde Wistar rats, born from deprived mothers (75 g casein/kg diet), were fed ad lib on either a balanced diet (180 g casein/kg; group DR), or a protein-deficient diet (50 g casein/kg; group DD). At seven time intervals (weeks 0, 1, 3, 5, 8, 16 and 23) twelve rats were weighed, fasted overnight and then decapitated. Blood glucose, plasma insulin (IRI) and glucagon (IRG) levels and pancreatic insulin and glucagon contents were determined.
3. In DR and DD rats blood glucose, which was normal at weaning, dropped in the 1st week and then increased slowly. DR rats were hyperglycaemic from week 16. IRI continually increased during the experiment from near-normal values to hyperinsulinic levels in DR rats; in group DD, it remained stable until week 8 before increasing. IRG, which was very low at weaning, increased to normal levels in the 1st week in group DR; in group DD, it fell slightly during the study. Pancreatic hormone contents were much higher than after normal pregnancy and lactation.
4. We compared these results with those of a previous study with rats born from normal mothers: at weaning in the second experiment the rats were already well adapted to malnutrition. The plasma ratio IRI:IRG in DD rats showed two phases of adaptation: weeks 0–5 when glucose homeostasis did not change and weeks 5–23 when it became increasingly normal. At the end of the experiment DR rats still had a lower body-weight than normal rats but were insulin-resistant.