The effects of maternal 50% food restriction (FR) during the last week of gestation and/or lactation on pituitary-gonadal axis (at birth and weaning), on circulating levels of leptin (at weaning), and on the onset of puberty have been determined in rats at birth and at weaning. Maternal FR during pregnancy has no effect at term on the litter size, on the basal level of testosterone in male pups, and on the drastic surge of circulating testosterone that occurs 2 h after birth. At weaning, similar retardation of body growth is observed in male and female pups from mothers exposed to FR. This undernutrition induces the most drastic effects when it is performed during both gestation and lactation or during lactation alone. Drastic retardation of testicle growth with reduction of cross-sectional area and intratubular lumen of the seminiferous tubules is observed in male pups from mothers exposed to undernutrition during both gestation and lactation or during lactation alone. Maternal FR during the perinatal period reduces circulating levels of FSH in male pups without affecting LH and testosterone concentrations. Maternal FR does not affect circulating levels of LH, estradiol, and progesterone in female pups. Female pups from mothers exposed to FR during both gestation and lactation show a significant increase of plasma FSH as well as a drastic retardation of ovarian growth. The follicular population was also altered. The number of antral follicles of small size (vesicular follicles) was increased, although the number of antral follicles of large size (graafian follicles) was reduced. Maternal FR occurring during both late gestation and lactation (male and female pups), during lactation alone (male and female pups), or during late gestation (female pups) induces a drastic reduction of plasma leptin and fat mass in pups at weaning. The onset of puberty is delayed in pups of both sexes from mothers exposed to FR during lactation and during both gestation and lactation. In conclusion, these data demonstrate that a perinatal growth retardation induced by maternal FR has long-term consequences on both size and histology of the genitals, on plasma gonadotropins and leptin levels, on fat stores at weaning, and on the onset of puberty.
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