Low protein (LP) diet during pregnancy leads to reduced plasma insulin levels in rodents, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Glucose is the primary insulin secretagogue, and enhanced glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS) in beta cells contributes to compensation for insulin resistance and maintenance of glucose homeostasis during pregnancy. In this study, we hypothesized that plasma insulin levels in pregnant rats fed LP diet are reduced due to disrupted GSIS of pancreatic islets. We first confirmed reduced plasma insulin levels, then investigated in vivo insulin secretion by glucose tolerance test and ex vivo GSIS of pancreatic islets in the presence of glucose at different doses, and KCl, glibenclamide, and L-arginine. Main findings include (1) plasma insulin levels were unaltered on day 10, but significantly reduced on days 14–22 of pregnancy in rats fed LP diet compared to those of control (CT) rats; (2) insulin sensitivity was unchanged, but glucose intolerance was more severe in pregnant rats fed LP diet; (3) GSIS in pancreatic islets was lower in LP rats compared to CT rats in the presence of glucose, KCl, and glibenclamide, and the response to L-arginine was abolished in LP rats; and (4) the total insulin content in pancreatic islets and expression of Ins2 were reduced in LP rats, but expression of Gcg was unaltered. These studies demonstrate that decreased GSIS in beta cells of LP rats contributes to reduced plasma insulin levels, which may lead to placental and fetal growth restriction and programs hypertension and other metabolic diseases in offspring.
Decreased glucose-stimulated insulin secretion of pancreatic islets in pregnant rats fed a low diet is responsible for the reduced plasma insulin levels and consequently enhanced glucose intolerance.