The role of oxygen in prenatal growth : studies in the chick embryo
Giussani, Dino A
Salinas Salmón, Carlos E
Blanco, Carlos E
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The compelling evidence linking small size at birth with later cardiovascular disease has renewed and amplified scientific and clinical interests into the determinants of fetal growth. It is accepted that genes and nutrition control fetal growth; however, prior to this study, it had been impossible to isolate the effect of increases and decreases in fetal oxygenation on the regulation of prenatal growth. We investigated the role of oxygen in the control of fetal growth in the chicken because in contrast to mammals, the effects on the fetus of changes in oxygenation could be isolated, by assessing them directly without alteration to the maternal or placental physiology or maternal nutrition during development. The data show that incubation at high altitude of fertilized eggs laid by sea level hens markedly restricted fetal growth. Incubation at high altitude of fertilized eggs laid by high altitude hens also restricted fetal growth, but to a lesser extent compared to eggs laid by sea level hens. By contrast, incubation at sea level of fertilized eggs laid by high altitude hens not only restored, but enhanced, fetal growth relative to sea level controls. Incubation at high altitude of sea level eggs with oxygen supplementation completely prevented the high altitude-induced fetal growth restriction. Thus, fetal oxygenation, independent of maternal nutrition during development, has a predominant role in the control of fetal growth. Further, prolonged high altitude residence confers protection against the deleterious effects of hypoxia on fetal growth.