Intrauterine growth restriction elevates circulating acylcarnitines and suppresses fatty acid metabolism genes in the fetal sheep heart

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    Abstract: At birth, the mammalian myocardium switches from using carbohydrates as the primary energy substrate to free fatty acids as the primary fuel. Thus, a compromised switch could jeopardize normal heart function in the neonate. Placental embolization in sheep is a reliable model of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). It leads to suppression of both proliferation and terminal differentiation of cardiomyocytes. We hypothesized that the expression of genes regulating cardiac fatty acid metabolism would be similarly suppressed in IUGR, leading to compromised processing of lipids. Following 10 days of umbilicoplacental embolization in fetal sheep, IUGR fetuses had elevated circulating long-chain fatty acylcarnitines compared with controls (C14: CTRL 0.012 ± 0.005 nmol/ml vs. IUGR 0.018 ± 0.005 nmol/ml, P < 0.05; C18: CTRL 0.027 ± 0.009 nmol/mol vs. IUGR 0.043 ± 0.024 nmol/mol, P < 0.05, n = 12 control, n = 12 IUGR) indicative of impaired fatty acid metabolism. Uptake studies using fluorescently tagged BODIPY-C12-saturated free fatty acid in live, isolated cardiomyocytes showed lipid droplet area and number were not different between control and IUGR cells. mRNA levels of sarcolemmal fatty acid transporters (CD36, FATP6), acylation enzymes (ACSL1, ACSL3), mitochondrial transporter (CPT1), β-oxidation enzymes (LCAD, HADH, ACAT1), tricarboxylic acid cycle enzyme (IDH), esterification enzymes (PAP, DGAT) and regulator of the lipid droplet formation (BSCL2) gene were all suppressed in IUGR myocardium (P < 0.05). However, protein levels for these regulatory genes were not different between groups. This discordance between mRNA and protein levels in the stressed myocardium suggests an adaptive protection of key myocardial enzymes under conditions of placental insufficiency. (Figure presented.). Key points: The fetal heart relies on carbohydrates in utero and must be prepared to metabolize fatty acids after birth but the effects of compromised fetal growth on the maturation of this metabolic system are unknown. Plasma fatty acylcarnitines are elevated in intrauterine growth-restricted (IUGR) fetuses compared with control fetuses, indicative of impaired fatty acid metabolism in fetal organs. Fatty acid uptake and storage are not different in IUGR cardiomyocytes compared with controls. mRNA levels of genes regulating fatty acid transporter and metabolic enzymes are suppressed in the IUGR myocardium compared with controls, while protein levels remain unchanged. Mismatches in gene and protein expression, and increased circulating fatty acylcarnitines may have long-term implications for offspring heart metabolism and adult health in IUGR individuals. This requires further investigation.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)655-670
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Physiology
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Feb 1 2022

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Physiology


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