Impacts of arginine nutrition on embryonic and fetal development in mammals.
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Embryonic loss and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) are significant problems in humans and other animals. Results from studies involving pigs and sheep have indicated that limited uterine capacity and placental insufficiency are major factors contributing to suboptimal reproduction in mammals. Our discovery of the unusual abundance of the arginine family of amino acids in porcine and ovine allantoic fluids during early gestation led to the novel hypothesis that arginine plays an important role in conceptus (embryo and extra-embryonic membranes) development. Arginine is metabolized to ornithine, proline, and nitric oxide, with each having important physiological functions. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator and angiogenic factor, whereas ornithine and proline are substrates for uterine and placental synthesis of polyamines that are key regulators of gene expression, protein synthesis, and angiogenesis. Additionally, arginine activates the mechanistic (mammalian) target of rapamycin cell signaling pathway to stimulate protein synthesis in the placenta, uterus, and fetus. Thus, dietary supplementation with 0.83 % L-arginine to gilts consuming 2 kg of a typical gestation diet between either days 14 and 28 or between days 30 and 114 of pregnancy increases the number of live-born piglets and litter birth weight. Similar results have been reported for gestating rats and ewes. In sheep, arginine also stimulates development of fetal brown adipose tissue. Furthermore, oral administration of arginine to women with IUGR has been reported to enhance fetal growth. Collectively, enhancement of uterine as well as placental growth and function through dietary arginine supplementation provides an effective solution to improving embryonic and fetal survival and growth.