Effects of breastfeeding on body composition and maturational tempo in the rat
1 Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Meyer Children's Hospital, Rambam Health Care Campus, Haaliya Street, Haifa 31096, Israel
2 Endocrine Laboratory, Rambam Health Care Campus, Haaliya Street, Haifa 31096, Israel
3 Rappaport Family Faculty of Medicine, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Efron Street, Haifa 31096, Israel
BMC Medicine 2013, 11:114 doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-114Published: 29 April 2013
Features of life history are subject to environmental regulation in the service of reproductive fitness goals. We have previously shown that the infant-to-childhood transition reflects the adaptive adjustment of an individual's size to the prevailing and anticipated environment.
To evaluate effects of weaning age on life-history traits in rats, we repeatedly measured length and body mass index (BMI), as well as physiological development and sexual maturation in pups weaned early (d16), normally (d21) or late (d26). Males were bred to females of the same weaning age group for four generations.
Here, we show that the age at weaning from lactation regulates a rat's life history, growth, body composition and maturational tempo. We show that early-weaned rats developed faster than normal- or late-weaned rats; they are leaner and longer than late-weaned ones who are heavier and shorter. Early-weaned progeny develop more rapidly (that is, fur budding, pinnae detachment, eye opening); females show earlier vaginal opening and estrous and males show earlier onset of testicular growth. In generations 3 and 4, early-weaned rats bear larger litter sizes and heavier newborn pups. The entire traits complex is transmitted to subsequent generations from the paternal side.
The findings presented here lend support to the proposition that the duration of infancy, as indexed by weaning age, predicts and perhaps programs growth, body composition, and the tempo of physiological development and maturation, as well as litter size and parity and, thereby, reproductive strategy.