Background: Maternal metabolic demands change dramatically during the course of gestation and must be co-ordinated with the needs of the developing placenta and fetus. The liver is critically involved in metabolism and other important functions. However, maternal hepatic adjustments to pregnancy are poorly understood.
Aim: The aim of the study was to evaluate the influences of pregnancy on the maternal liver growth and gene expression profile.
Methods: Holtzman Sprague–Dawley rats were mated and sacrificed at various stages of gestation and post-partum. The maternal livers were analysed in gravimetric response, DNA content by PicoGreen dsDNA quantitation reagent, hepatocyte ploidy by flow cytometry and hepatocyte proliferation by ki-67 immunostaining. Gene expression profiling of non-pregnant and gestation d18.5 maternal hepatic tissue was analysed using a DNA microarray approach and partially verified by northern blot or quantitative real-time PCR analysis.
Results: During pregnancy, the liver exhibited approximately an 80% increase in size, proportional to the increase in body weight of the pregnant animals. The pregnancy-induced hepatomegaly was a physiological event of liver growth manifested by increases in maternal hepatic DNA content and hepatocyte proliferation. Pregnancy did not affect hepatocyte polyploidization. Pregnancy-dependent changes in hepatic expression were noted for a number of genes, including those associated with cell proliferation, cytokine signalling, liver regeneration and metabolism.
Conclusions: The metabolic demands of pregnancy cause marked adjustments in maternal liver physiology. Central to these adjustments are an expansion in hepatic capacity and changes in hepatic gene expression. Our findings provide insights into pregnancy-dependent hepatic adaptations.