Nutrient restriction during pregnancy and lactation impairs growth and development. Recent studies demonstrate long-term programming of function of specific organ systems resulting from suboptimal environments during fetal life and development up to weaning. We determined effects of maternal protein restriction (50% control protein intake) during fetal development and/or lactation in rats on the reproductive system of male progeny. Rats were fed either a control 20% casein diet (C) or a restricted diet (R) of 10% casein during pregnancy. After delivery mothers received either C or R diet until weaning to provide four groups: CC, RR, CR and RC. We report findings in male offspring only. Maternal protein restriction increased maternal serum corticosterone, oestradiol and testosterone (T) concentrations at 19 days gestation. Pup birth weight was unchanged but ano-genital distance was increased by maternal protein restriction (P < 0.05). Testicular descent was delayed 4.4 days in RR, 2.1 days in CR and 2.2 days in RC and was not related to body weight. Body weight and testis weight were reduced in RR and CR groups at all ages with the exception of CR testis weight at 270 days postnatal age (PN). At 70 days PN luteinizing hormone and T concentrations were reduced in RR, CR and RC. mRNA for P450 side chain cleavage (P450scc) was reduced in RR and CR at 21 days PN but was unchanged at 70 days PN. Fertility rate was reduced at 270 days PN in RC and sperm count in RR and RC. We conclude that maternal protein delays sexual maturation in male rats and that some effects only emerge in later life.
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