The effects of pancreatic hormones and cyclic AMP on the induction of ketogenesis and long-chain fatty acid oxidation were studied in primary cultures of hepatocytes from fetal and newborn rabbits. Hepatocytes were cultivated during 4 days in the presence of glucagon (10(-6) M), forskolin (2 x 10(-5) M), dibutyryl cyclic AMP (10(-4) M), 8-bromo cyclic AMP (10(-4) M) or insulin (10(-7) M). Ketogenesis and fatty acid metabolism were measured using [1-14C]oleate (0.5 mM). In hepatocytes from fetuses at term, the rate of ketogenesis remained very low during the 4 days of culture. In hepatocytes from 24-h-old newborn, the rate of ketogenesis was high during the first 48 h of culture and then rapidly decreased to reach a low value similar to that measured in cultured hepatocytes from term fetuses. A 48 h exposure to glucagon, forskolin or cyclic AMP derivatives is necessary to induce ketone body production in cultured fetal hepatocytes at a rate similar to that found in cultured hepatocytes from newborn rabbits. In fetal liver cells, the induction of ketogenesis by glucagon or cyclic AMP results from changes in the partitioning of long-chain fatty acid from esterification towards oxidation. Indeed, glucagon, forskolin and cyclic AMP enhance oleate oxidation (basal, 12.7 +/- 1.6; glucagon, 50.0 +/- 5.5; forskolin, 70.6 +/- 5.4; cyclic AMP, 77.5 +/- 3.4% of oleate metabolized) at the expense of oleate esterification. In cultured fetal hepatocytes, the rate of fatty acid oxidation in the presence of cyclic AMP is similar to the rate of oleate oxidation present at the time of plating (85.1 +/- 2.6% of oleate metabolized) in newborn rabbit hepatocytes. In hepatocytes from term fetuses, the presence of insulin antagonizes in a dose-dependent fashion the glucagon-induced oleate oxidation. Neither glucagon nor cyclic AMP affect the activity of carnitine palmitoyltransferase I (CPT I). The malonyl-CoA concentration inducing 50% inhibition of CPT I (IC50) is 14-fold higher in mitochondria isolated from cultured newborn hepatocytes (0.95 microM) compared with fetal hepatocytes (0.07 microM), indicating that the sensitivity of CPT I decreases markedly in the first 24 h after birth. The addition of glucagon or cyclic AMP into cultured fetal hepatocytes decreased by 80% and 90% respectively the sensitivity of CPT I to malonyl-CoA inhibition. In the presence of cyclic AMP, the sensitivity of CPT I to malonyl-CoA inhibition in cultured fetal hepatocytes is very similar to that measured in cultured hepatocytes from 24-h-old newborns.

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