During pregnancy, maternal metabolic disease and hormonal imbalance may alter fetal beta cell development and/or proliferation, thus leading to an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes in adulthood. Although thyroid hormones play an important role in fetal endocrine pancreas development, the impact of maternal hypothyroidism on glucose homeostasis in adult offspring remains poorly understood.
We investigated this using a mouse model of hypothyroidism, induced by administration of an iodine-deficient diet supplemented with propylthiouracil during gestation.
Here, we show that, when fed normal chow, adult mice born to hypothyroid mothers were more glucose-tolerant due to beta cell hyperproliferation (two- to threefold increase in Ki67-positive beta cells) and increased insulin sensitivity. However, following 8 weeks of high-fat feeding, these offspring gained 20% more body weight, became profoundly hyperinsulinaemic (with a 50% increase in fasting insulin concentration), insulin-resistant and glucose-intolerant compared with controls from euthyroid mothers. Furthermore, altered glucose metabolism was maintained in a second generation of animals.
Therefore, gestational hypothyroidism induces long-term alterations in endocrine pancreas function, which may have implications for type 2 diabetes prevention in affected individuals.