Maternal nutritional restriction has been shown to induce impairments in a number of organ systems including the ovary. We have previously shown that maternal undernutrition induces fetal growth restriction and low birth weight, and results in an offspring ovarian phenotype characteristic of premature ovarian aging with reduced ovarian reserve. In the present study, we set out to investigate the underlying mechanisms that lead offspring of undernourished mothers to premature ovarian aging. Pregnant dams were randomized to 1) a standard diet throughout pregnancy and lactation (control), 2) a calorie-restricted (50% of control) diet during pregnancy, 3) a calorie-restricted (50% of control) diet during pregnancy and lactation, or 4) a calorie-restricted (50% of control) diet during lactation alone. The present study shows that early life undernutrition-induced reduction of adult ovarian follicles may be mediated by increased ovarian endoplasmic reticulum stress in a manner that increased follicular apoptosis but not autophagy. These changes were associated with a loss of ovarian vessel density and are consistent with an accelerated ovarian aging phenotype. Whether these changes are mediated specifically by a reduction in the local antioxidant environment is unclear, although our data suggest the possibility that ovarian melatonin may play a part in early life nutritional undernutrition and impaired offspring folliculogenesis.
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Vol. 92 • No. 4