Leptin is an important regulator of body fat mass and energy expenditure during adult life. The mechanisms by which maternal and fetal weight are regulated during pregnancy are poorly understood. In order to gain more insight into a potential role of leptin during gestation, a prospective, longitudinal study was carried out to measure leptin concentrations in maternal serum of 29 healthy women during pregnancy up to 6 weeks after birth and also in umbilical cord blood of their newborns. Leptin concentrations were measured using a specific RIA. In addition, estradiol, testosterone, and sex hormone binding globulin were determined using commercially available RIAs. The mothers’ skinfolds were determined at four sites using a Holtain caliper.
Leptin levels increased continuously during pregnancy and reached 25.8 ± 14.7 ng/ml at 38–40 weeks. At birth, leptin concentrations were 23.5 ± 15.4 ng/ml. Three days after delivery a significant decrease of leptin levels to 10.6 ± 6.0 ng/ml was observed. Six weeks after birth the leptin concentration in maternal serum was 13.8 ± 8.6 ng/ml. At birth, maternal serum levels were significantly higher than levels in cord blood and did not correlate with leptin levels in cord blood or neonatal weight. Furthermore, leptin levels did not correlate with maternal sex steroids and sex hormone binding globulin levels. At 6–8 weeks of pregnancy, maternal leptin serum levels correlated significantly with BMI (r = 0.81). The correlation coefficients (leptin vs. BMI) dropped with increasing gestational age and at birth only a poor correlation persisted (r = 0.50). Six weeks after birth there was again a high correlation between leptin levels in maternal serum and BMI (r = 0.76). Subscapular skinfold thickness was correlated to leptin concentrations in maternal serum during the whole period of the investigation.
In conclusion, maternal leptin levels continuously increased from 6–8 weeks up to 38–40 weeks of pregnancy. Maternal leptin levels decreased dramatically after birth. Six weeks after delivery, leptin levels were comparable to the values measured at the beginning of pregnancy. We hypothesize that leptin might play an important role during pregnancy and fetal development.
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