Retardation of fetal brain cell growth during maternal starvation: Circulating factors versus altered cellular response

D. S. Gu*, G. E. Shambaugh, B. E. Metzger, T. G. Unterman, J. A. Radosevich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Maternal starvation inhibits fetal brain development during late gestation in the rat. To determine whether intrinsic or extrinsic factors might be the principal contributor to altered growth, brain cells from 20 day fetuses were cultured in a 96 well plate with MEM and 10% adult rat serum. Tissue growth was monitored by spectrophotometric measurement of the mitochondrial reduction of a chromagen 3-(4,5 dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5 diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT). After 1, 4 or 6 days incubation, MTT activity in non confluent cultures was shown to be directly related to tissue mass. When fetal brain cell cultures were incubated with 1% and 10% concentrations of adult rat serum, an 11-fold increase in MTT activity paralleled a 15-fold increase in tritiated thymidine incorporation. The impact of maternal starvation on fetal brain cell growth was examined by measuring MTT activity in fetal brain cells from fed and starved mothers. When cultures were incubated for 6 days with graded concentrations of fed adult serum (1.25-10%), the MTT response was slightly but consistently lower in cells from starved when compared with cells from fed mothers. By contrast, a marked difference in MTT activity which was paralleled by a lower DNA content became apparent when fetal rat brain cells were incubated with starved adult serum. Fetal serum and adult male serum were found to support growth equally well, while incubation of fetal brain cells with maternal sera resulted in lower MIT values than with the corresponding fetal sera. When cells were incubated with fetal sera pooled from starved mothers, MTT activity was decreased by 42 to 45%. A relative decrease in MTT activity was also apparent when cells were exposed to sera from starved mothers. Graded concentrations of starved fetal serum (2.5-10%) produced an increase in MTT activity that was consistently lower than similar concentrations of fed fetal serum, a finding suggesting a decrease in growth factors. Mixing fasted with fed serum did not correct the diminished growth, and indicated that an inhibitor might also be functioning to restrict growth. These findings therefore suggest that the principal determinants of diminished fetal brain growth during maternal starvation are not only intrinsic to the cells but are importantly related to the altered extrinsic factors in the fetal circulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)529-537
Number of pages9
JournalNeurochemical Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1992


  • Fetal
  • MTT
  • brain cell
  • culture
  • male
  • maternal
  • rat
  • starvation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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