Placentomal differentiation may compensate for maternal nutrient restriction in ewes adapted to harsh range conditions

K. A. Vonnahme, B. W. Hess, M. J. Nijland, P. W. Nathanielsz, S. P. Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Maternal nutrient restriction from early to midgestation can lead to fetal growth retardation, with long-term impacts on offspring growth, physiology, and metabolism. We hypothesized that ewes from flocks managed under markedly different environmental conditions and levels of nutrition might differ in their ability to protect their own fetus from a bout of maternal nutrient restriction. We utilized multiparous ewes of similar breeding, age, and parity from 2 flocks managed as 1) ewes adapted to a nomadic existence and year-long, limited nutrition near Baggs, WY (Baggs ewes), and 2) University of Wyoming ewes with a sedentary lifestyle and continuous provision of more than adequate nutrition (UW ewes). Groups of Baggs ewes and UW ewes were fed 50 (nutrient restricted) or 100% (control fed) of National Research Council recommendations from d 28 to 78 of gestation, then necropsied, and fetal and placental data were obtained. Although there was a marked decrease (P < 0.05) in fetal weight and blood glucose concentrations in nutrient-restricted vs. control fed UW ewes, there was no difference in these fetal measurements between nutrient-restricted and control-fed Baggs ewes. Nutrient-restricted and control-fed UW ewes exhibited predominantly type A placentomes on d 78, but there were fewer (P < 0.05) type A and greater (P < 0.05) numbers of type B, C, and D placentomes in nutrient-restricted than control-fed Baggs ewes. Placental efficiency (fetal weight/placentomal weight) was reduced (P = 0.04) in d 78 nutrient-restricted UW ewes when compared with control-fed UW ewes. In contrast, nutrient-restricted and control-fed Baggs ewes exhibited similar placental efficiencies on d 78. This is the first report of different placental responses to a nutritional challenge during pregnancy when ewes were selected under different management systems. These data are consistent with the concept that Baggs ewes or their conceptuses, which were adapted to both harsh environments and limited nutrition, initiated conversion of type A placentomes to other placentomal types when subjected to an early to mid-gestational nutrient restriction, whereas this conversion failed to occur in UW ewes. This early placentomal conversion in the Baggs ewes may function to maintain normal nutrient delivery to their developing fetuses during maternal nutrient restriction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3451-3459
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2006


  • Fetal growth
  • Gestational nutrient restriction
  • Placentomal conversion
  • Sheep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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