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Keywords:

  • maternal protein restriction;
  • heart;
  • cardiomyocytes;
  • intrauterine growth restriction;
  • stereology

Abstract

Maternal protein restriction leads to a reduction in the number of cardiomyocytes in the rat heart at birth. However, in rats, cardiomyocytes continue to proliferate until about 2 weeks after birth. Hence, this study aimed to examine the effect of maternal protein restriction, on the number of cardiomyocytes in the young rat heart at a time point when the cardiomyocytes have ceased proliferating and are terminally differentiated. Female Wistar Kyoto rats were fed either a normal protein diet (NPD; 20% casein) or a low protein diet (LPD; 8.7% casein) during pregnancy and lactation. Offspring (seven males and seven females per group) were perfusion fixed at 4 weeks of age. Heart volume and total cardiomyocyte number were determined using stereological techniques. At 4 weeks of age, body weights in both male and female LPD offspring were significantly reduced compared with NPD controls whereas relative heart volumes were significantly increased in LPD offspring. Total number of cardiomyocytes was not significantly different between groups. In both groups, there was a significant linear correlation between cardiomyocyte number and heart volume. In conclusion, total cardiomyocyte number in the postproliferative rat heart does not appear to be affected by maternal protein restriction per se but is directly related to heart size. Anat Rec, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.