Costs of gestation in an Arctic ruminant: copper reserves in muskoxen. Academic Article uri icon


  • The transfer of trace minerals between mother and fetus may be critical for survival of young ruminants especially among species at high latitudes, which gestate during a long winter and grow through a brief summer. We examined the distribution of copper and metalloproteins (ceruloplasmin and metallothionein) in muskoxen and their fetuses, three times during gestation. Hepatic levels of copper were high in mothers (179 microg g(-1) whole tissue) and did not change through gestation, whereas fetuses accumulated large reserves of Cu (>300 microg g(-1)), likely stored in proteins such as metallothionein, during the last third of gestation. The effect of fetal Cu demands on the pregnant female was tested by supplementation of Cu by subcutaneous injections of Cu gluconate (30 mg Cu/week) during pregnancy. Maternal copper supplementation did not significantly increase hepatic Cu in newborns (412 microg g(-1) for supplemented vs. 303 microg g(-1) for unsupplemented neonates), probably because the diet was already adequate in copper (14 microg g(-1) dry matter). Ceruloplasmin activity declined in pregnant muskoxen that had not received injections of Cu and suggested increased systemic demands for copper during late gestation. Supplies of Cu to the fetus could be limited either by low levels of Cu in the maternal liver, or in the maternal diet during late winter when fetal gains in mass and liver Cu are greatest.

published proceedings

  • Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol

author list (cited authors)

  • Rombach, E. P., Barboza, P. S., & Blake, J. E.

citation count

  • 11

complete list of authors

  • Rombach, Emmajean P||Barboza, Perry S||Blake, John E

publication date

  • January 2003