Document Type



Community Health Sciences


Background: Preconceptional maternal small-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplementation (SQLNS) improved intrauterine linear growth in low-resource countries as demonstrated by the Women First Preconception Maternal Nutrition Trial (WF). Fetal growth is dependent on nutrient availability and regulated by insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) through changes in placental transfer capacity, mediated by the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway.
Objectives: Our objective was to evaluate the role of placental mTOR and IGF-1 signaling on fetal growth in women from 2 low-resource countries with high rates of stunting after they received preconceptional SQLNS.
Methods: We studied 48 women from preconception through delivery who were from Guatemala and Pakistan and received SQLNS or not, as part of the WF study. Placental samples were obtained at delivery (control, n = 24; SQLNS, n = 24). Placental protein or mRNA expression of eukaryotic translation initiation factor binding protein-1 (4E-BP1), ribosomal protein S6 (rpS6), AMP-activated protein kinase α (AMPKA), IGF-1, insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGF-1R), and pregnancy associated plasma protein (PAPP)-A, and DNA methylation of the IGF1 promoter were determined. Maternal serum IGF-1, insulin-like growth factor binding protein (IGFBP)-3, IGFBP-4, IGFBP-5, PAPP-A, PAPP-A2, and zinc were measured.
Results: Mean ± SEM maternal prepregnancy BMI differed between participants in Guatemala (26.5 ± 1.3) and Pakistan (19.8 ± 0.7) (P < 0.001). In Pakistani participants, SQLNS increased the placental rpS6(T37/46):rpS6 ratio (1.5-fold) and decreased the AMPKA(T172):AMPKA ratio. Placental IGF1 mRNA expression was positively correlated with birth length and birth weight z-scores. Placental PAPP-A (30-fold) and maternal serum zinc (1.2-fold) increased with SQLNS. In Guatemalan participants SQLNS did not influence placental mTOR signaling. Placental IGF-1R protein expression was positively associated with birth length and birth weight z-scores. SQLNS increased placental PAPP-A (40-fold) and maternal serum IGFBP-4 (1.6-fold).
Conclusions: In Pakistani pregnant women with poor nutritional status, preconceptional SQLNS activated placental mTOR and IGF-1 signaling and was associated with improved fetal growth. In contrast, in Guatemalan women SQLNS did not activate placental nutrient-sensing pathways. In populations experiencing childhood stunting, preconceptional SQLNS improves placental function and fetal growth only in the context of poor maternal nutrition. This trial was registered at as NCT01883193.


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Publication (Name of Journal)

The Journal of Nutrition

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.