Prematurity and insulin sensitivity
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Premature infants of low and extremely low birth weight represent a challenge for neonatal intensive care units and paediatricians. These neonates may be at increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes perinatally and during childhood. During the first week of postnatal life, infants born prematurely are at risk of abnormalities in glucose homeostasis. Additionally, there are major differences in their glucose/insulin homeostasis compared with infants born at term. Preterm infants are at risk of hypoglycaemia, due to decreases in deposits of glycogen and fat that occur during the third trimester, and also to transient hyperinsulinaemia. Hyperglycaemia may also be observed in preterm infants during the perinatal period. These infants are unable to suppress glucose production within a large range of glucose and insulin concentrations, insulin secretory response is inappropriate insulin processing is immature and there is an increased ratio of the glucose transporters Glut-1/Glut-2 in fetal tissues, which limits sensitivity and hepatocyte reaction to increments in glucose/insulin concentration during hyperglycaemia. In addition, increased concentrations of tumour necrosis factor a present in intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) and induce insulin resistance. It has been proposed that the reduced insulin sensitivity may result from adaptation to an adverse in utero environment during a critical period of development. We have investigated postnatal insulin resistance in 60 children born with very low birth weight and either small for gestational age or at an appropriate size for gestational age. This study showed that IUGR, rather than low birth weight itself, was associated with increased fasting insulin levels. As poor fetal growth may be associated with the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome in later life, it is important that we continue to increase our understanding of the effects of IUGR on postnatal growth and metabolism.