Endocrine regulation of fetal skeletal muscle growth: impact on future metabolic health

    1. Laura D Brown
    1. Department of Pediatrics (Neonatology), Perinatal Research Center, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Anschutz Medical Campus F441, 13243 East 23rd Avenue, Aurora, Colorado 80045, USA
    1. Correspondence should be addressed to L D Brown; Email: laura.brown{at}ucdenver.edu


    Establishing sufficient skeletal muscle mass is essential for lifelong metabolic health. The intrauterine environment is a major determinant of the muscle mass that is present during the life course of an individual, because muscle fiber number is set at the time of birth. Thus, a compromised intrauterine environment from maternal nutrient restriction or placental insufficiency that restricts muscle fiber number can have permanent effects on the amount of muscle an individual will live with. Reduced muscle mass due to fewer muscle fibers persists even after compensatory or ‘catch-up’ postnatal growth occurs. Furthermore, muscle hypertrophy can only partially compensate for this limitation in fiber number. Compelling associations link low birth weight and decreased muscle mass to future insulin resistance, which can drive the development of the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, and the risk of cardiovascular events later in life. There are gaps in knowledge about the origins of reduced muscle growth at the cellular level and how these patterns are set during fetal development. By understanding the nutrient and endocrine regulation of fetal skeletal muscle growth and development, we can direct research efforts toward improving muscle growth early in life to prevent the development of chronic metabolic diseases later in life.

    • Received in final form 5 February 2014
    • Accepted 13 February 2014
    • Made available online as an Accepted Preprint 14 February 2014
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