The production of variation in adipose tissue accretion represents a key fetal adaptation to energy substrate availability during gestation. Because umbilical venous blood transports nutrient substrate from the maternal to the fetal compartment and because the fetal liver is the primary organ in which nutrient interconversion occurs, it has been proposed that variations in the relative distribution of umbilical venous blood flow shunting either through ductus venosus or perfusing the fetal liver represents a mechanism underlying this adaptation.OBJECTIVE:
The objective of the present study was to determine whether fetal liver blood flow assessed before the period of maximal fetal fat deposition (ie, the third trimester of gestation) is prospectively associated with newborn adiposity.STUDY DESIGN:
A prospective study was conducted in a cohort of 62 uncomplicated singleton pregnancies. Fetal ultrasonography was performed at 30 weeks gestation for conventional fetal biometry and characterization of fetal liver blood flow (quantified by subtracting ductus venosus flow from umbilical vein flow). Newborn body fat percentage was quantified by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry imaging at 25.8 ± 3.3 (mean ± standard error of the mean) postnatal days. Multiple regression analysis was used to determine the proportion of variation in newborn body fat percentage explained by fetal liver blood flow. Potential confounding factors included maternal age, parity, prepregnancy body mass index, gestational weight gain, gestational age at birth, infant sex, postnatal age at dual energy X-ray absorptiometry scan, and mode of infant feeding.RESULTS:
Newborn body fat percentage was 13.5% ± 2.4% (mean ± standard error of the mean). Fetal liver blood flow at 30 weeks gestation was significantly and positively associated with newborn total fat mass (r=0.397; P<.001) and body fat percentage (r=0.369; P=.004), but not with lean mass (r=0.100; P=.441). After accounting for the effects of covariates, fetal liver blood flow explained 13.5% of the variance in newborn fat mass. The magnitude of this association was pronounced particularly in nonoverweight/nonobese mothers (prepregnancy body mass index, <25 kg/m2; n=36) in whom fetal liver blood flow explained 24.4% of the variation in newborn body fat percentage.CONCLUSION:
Fetal liver blood flow at the beginning of the third trimester of gestation is associated positively with newborn adiposity, particularly among nonoverweight/nonobese mothers. This finding supports the role of fetal liver blood flow as a putative fetal adaptation underlying variation in adipose tissue accretion.