Scientific reports

A progesterone-brown fat axis is involved in regulating fetal growth.

PMID 28878263


Pregnancy is associated with profound maternal metabolic changes, necessary for the growth and development of the fetus, mediated by reproductive signals acting on metabolic organs. However, the role of brown adipose tissue (BAT) in regulating gestational metabolism is unknown. We show that BAT phenotype is lost in murine pregnancy, while there is a gain of white adipose tissue (WAT)-like features. This is characterised by reduced thermogenic capacity and mitochondrial content, accompanied by increased levels of markers of WAT and lipid accumulation. Surgical ablation of BAT prior to conception caused maternal and fetal hyperlipidemia, and consequently larger fetuses. We show that BAT phenotype is altered from day 5 of gestation, implicating early pregnancy factors, which was confirmed by reduced expression of BAT markers in progesterone challenged oophorectomised mice. Moreover, in vitro data using primary BAT cultures show a direct impact of progesterone on expression of Ucp1. These data demonstrate that progesterone mediates a phenotypic change in BAT, which contributes to the gestational metabolic environment, and thus overall fetal size.