Open Access Research article

A low protein diet during pregnancy provokes a lasting shift of hepatic expression of genes related to cell cycle throughout ontogenesis in a porcine model

Michael Oster1, Eduard Murani1, Cornelia C Metges2, Siriluck Ponsuksili3 and Klaus Wimmers1*

Author Affiliations

1 Research Unit Molecular Biology, Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN), Dummerstorf, Germany

2 Research Unit Physiology of Nutrition, Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN), Dummerstorf, Germany

3 Research Group Functional Genomics, Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN), Dummerstorf, Germany

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:93  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-93

Published: 16 March 2012



In rodent models and in humans the impact of gestational diets on the offspring's phenotype was shown experimentally and epidemiologically. Adverse environmental conditions during fetal development provoke an intrauterine adaptive response termed 'fetal programming', which may lead to both persistently biased responsiveness to extrinsic factors and permanent consequences for the organismal phenotype. This leads to the hypothesis that the offspring's transcriptome exhibits short-term and long-term changes, depending on the maternal diet. In order to contribute to a comprehensive inventory of genes and functional networks that are targets of nutritional programming initiated during fetal life, we applied whole-genome microarrays for expression profiling in a longitudinal experimental design covering prenatal, perinatal, juvenile, and adult ontogenetic stages in a porcine model. Pregnant sows were fed either a gestational low protein diet (LP, 6% CP) or an adequate protein diet (AP, 12% CP). All offspring was nursed by foster sows receiving standard diets. After weaning, all offspring was fed standard diets ad libitum.


Analyses of the hepatic gene expression of the offspring at prenatal (94 dies post conceptionem, dpc) and postnatal stages (1, 28, 188 dies post natum, dpn) included comparisons between dietary groups within stages as well as comparisons between ontogenetic stages within diets to separate diet-specific transcriptional changes and maturation processes. We observed differential expression of genes related to lipid metabolism (e.g. Fatty acid metabolism, Biosynthesis of steroids, Synthesis and degradation of ketone bodies, FA elongation in mitochondria, Bile acid synthesis) and cell cycle regulation (e.g. Mitotic roles of PLK, G1/S checkpoint regulation, G2/M DNA damage checkpoint regulation). Notably, at stage 1 dpn no regulation of a distinct pathway was found in LP offspring.


The transcriptomic modulations point to persistent functional demand on the liver towards cell proliferation in the LP group but not in the AP group at identical nutritional conditions during postnatal life due to divergent 'programming' of the genome. Together with the observation that the offspring of both groups did not differ in body weight but in body composition and fat content, the data indicate that the activity of various genes led to diverse partitioning of nutrients among peripheral and visceral organs and tissues.