Gastrointestinal capacity, gut hormones and appetite change during rat pregnancy and lactation

Johnson, Michelle L.; Saffrey, M. Jill and Taylor, Victoria Jane (2019). Gastrointestinal capacity, gut hormones and appetite change during rat pregnancy and lactation. Reproduction, 157(5) pp. 431–443.



Pregnancy and lactation increase maternal appetite and adiposity, which in humans can lead to long-term body mass retention. Previous rat reproduction studies suggest that appetite-inhibiting gut hormone, peptide-YY (PYY), is elevated, despite hyperphagia; also that gastrointestinal size increases. The present study characterised changes in orexigenic (appetite-stimulating) ghrelin and anorexigenic (appetite-inhibiting) PYY and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), and gastrointestinal architecture during pregnancy and lactation, in matched fed and fasted plasma and gut tissue samples taken during the dark phase. Enteroendocrine cells were immunolabelled, and gut masses and lengths measured. Fasted plasma ghrelin reduced during pregnancy: it was lowest by day 18, recovered to control values at parturition, then increased by the end of lactation. Ghrelin-immunoreactive stomach cells and stomach ghrelin concentrations were highest at birth, prior to the onset of lactation-associated hyperphagia. Plasma fed GLP-1 concentrations were elevated during pregnancy; and together with higher colon concentrations of PYY and GLP-1 during early lactation, they were associated with gastrointestinal tissue expansion, not satiety. Body mass increased during lactation, whereas white adipose tissue depots depleted. Extensive gut remodelling coincided with elevated colon concentrations of PYY and GLP-1. Modifications included: stomach and caecum expansion, and duodenal, ascending and descending colon circumference increases, all peaking by day 10 of lactation; increased intestinal masses and lengths peaking at lactation day 10 for small intestine and lactation day 25 for large intestine. If these physical tissue increases persist post-partum, they could accelerate future nutrient assimilation and storage in dams, and may contribute to increased obesity risk.

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