In pregnant women with type 1 diabetes, suboptimal glucose control in the first trimester is a strong predictor for giving birth to a large fetus. However, the mechanisms underlying this association are unknown. We hypothesized that transient hyperglycaemia in early pregnancy results in (1) increased placental growth and (2) an up-regulation of placental nutrient transport capacity, which leads to fetal overgrowth at term. In order to test this hypothesis, pregnant rats were given intraperitoneal injections of glucose (2 g kg-1, resulting in a 50-100% increase in blood glucose level during 90 min) or saline (control) in either early or late gestation using four different protocols: one single injection on gestational day (GD) 10 (n = 5), three injections on GD 10 (n = 8-9), six injections on GD 10 and 11 (n = 9-11) or three injections on GD 19 (n = 7-8). Multiple injections were given approximately 4 h apart. Subsequently, animals were studied on GD 21. Three glucose injections in early pregnancy significantly increased placental weight by 10%, whereas fetal weight was found to be increased at term in response to both three (9% increase in fetal weight, P < 0.05) and six glucose injections (7%, P = 0.05) in early gestation. A single glucose injection on GD 10 or three injections of glucose on GD 19 had no effect on placental or fetal growth. In groups where a change in feto-placental growth was observed, we measured placental system A and glucose transport activity in the awake animals on GD 21 and placental expression of the glucose and amino acid transporters GLUT1, GLUT3, SNAT2 (system A), LAT1 and LAT 2 (system L). Placental system A transport at term was down-regulated by six glucose injections in early pregnancy (by -33%, P < 0.05), whereas placental mRNA and protein levels were unchanged. No long-term alterations in maternal metabolic status were detected. In conclusion, we demonstrate that transient hyperglycaemia in early pregnancy is sufficient to increase fetal weight close to term. In contrast, brief hyperglycaemia in late pregnancy did not stimulate fetal growth. Increased fetal growth may be explained by a larger placenta, which would allow for more nutrients to be transferred to the fetus. These data suggest that maternal metabolic control in early pregnancy is an important determinant for feto-placental growth and placental function throughout the remainder of gestation. We speculate that maternal metabolism in early pregnancy represents a key environmental cue to which the placenta responds in order to match fetal growth rate with the available resources of the mother.
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