Free fatty acids (FFAs) are energy substrates for many cell types, but in excess, some FFAs can accumulate in nonadipose cells, inducing apoptosis. Also known as lipotoxicity, this phenomenon may play a role in the development of obesity-related disease. Obesity is common among reproductive age women and is associated with adverse pregnancy and fetal outcomes; however, little is known about the effects of excess FFAs on embryos and subsequent fetal development. To address this knowledge gap, murine blastocysts were cultured in excess palmitic acid (PA), the most abundant saturated FFA in human serum, and ovarian follicular fluid. Targets susceptible to aberrations in maternal physiology, including embryonic IGF1 receptor (IGF1R) expression, glutamic pyruvate transaminase (GPT2) activity, and nuclei count, were measured. PA-exposed blastocysts demonstrated altered IGF1R expression, increased GPT2 activity, and decreased nuclei count. Trophoblast stem cells derived from preimplantation embryos were also cultured in PA. Cells exposed to increasing doses of PA demonstrated increased apoptosis and decreased proliferation. To demonstrate long-term effects of brief PA exposure, blastocysts cultured for 30 h in PA were transferred into foster mice, and pregnancies followed through Embryonic Day (ED)14.5 or delivery. Fetuses resulting from PA-exposed blastocysts were smaller than controls at ED14.5. Delivered pups were also smaller but demonstrated catch-up growth and ultimately surpassed control pups in weight. Altogether, our data suggest brief PA exposure results in altered embryonic metabolism and growth, with lasting adverse effects on offspring, providing further insight into the pathophysiology of maternal obesity.
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Vol. 85 • No. 4