Sodium retention has been proposed as the cause of hypertension in the LP rat (offspring exposed to a maternal low-protein diet in utero) model of developmental programming because of increased renal NKCC2 (Na+/K+/2Cl co-transporter 2) expression. However, we have shown that LP rats excrete more rather than less sodium than controls, leading us to hypothesize that LP rats ingest more salt in order to maintain sodium balance. Rats were fed on either a 9% (low) or 18% (control) protein diet during pregnancy; male and female offspring were studied at 4 weeks of age. LP rats of both sexes held in metabolism cages excreted more sodium and urine than controls. When given water to drink, LP rats drank more and ate more food than controls, hence sodium intake matched excretion. However, when given a choice between saline and water to drink, the total volume of fluid ingested by LP rats fell to control levels, but the volume of saline taken was significantly larger [3.8±0.1 compared with 8.8±1.3 ml/24 h per 100 g of body weight in control and LP rats respectively; P<0.001]. Interestingly food intake also fell to control levels. Total body sodium content and ECF (extracellular fluid) volumes were greater in LP rats. These results show that prenatal programming of renal sodium wasting leads to a compensatory increase in salt appetite in LP rats. We speculate that the need to maintain salt homoeostasis following malnutrition in utero stimulates greater food intake, leading to accelerated growth and raised BP (blood pressure).

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