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Objective: The suckling period is one potentially “critical” period during which nutritional intake may permanently “program” metabolism to promote increased adult body weight and insulin resistance in later life. This study determined whether fructose introduced during the suckling period altered body weight and induced changes in fatty acid transport leading to insulin resistance in adulthood in rats.

Methods and Procedures: Pups were randomly assigned to one of four diets: suckle controls (SCs), rat milk substitute formula (Rat Milk Substitute), fructose-containing formula (Fructose), or galactose-containing formula (Galactose). Starting at weaning, all pups received the same diet; at 8 weeks of age, half of the SC rats began ingesting a diet containing 65% kcal fructose (SC-Fructose). This continued until animals were 12 weeks old and the study ended.

Results: At weeks 8, 10, and 11, the Fructose group weighed more than SC and SC-Fructose groups (P < 0.05). At weeks 8 and 10 of age, the Fructose group had significantly higher insulin concentrations vs. rats in the SC-Fructose group. 3H-Palmitate transport into vesicles from hind limb skeletal muscle was higher in Fructose vs. SC rats (P < 0.05). CD36 expression was increased in the sarcolemma but not in whole tissue homogenates from skeletal muscle from Fructose rats (P < 0.05) suggesting a redistribution of this protein associated with fatty acid uptake across the plasma membrane. This change in subcellular localization of CD36 is associated with insulin resistance in muscle.

Discussion: Consuming fructose during suckling may result in lifelong changes in body weight, insulin secretion, and fatty acid transport involving CD36 in muscle and ultimately promote insulin resistance.