The maternal nutritional status is essential to the health and well-being of the fetus.
Maternal protein restriction during the perinatal stage causes sperm alterations in
the offspring that are associated with epididymal dysfunctions. Vascular endothelial
growth factor (VEGF) and its receptor, VEGFr-2, as well as aquaporins (AQPs) are important
regulators of angiogenesis and the epididymal microenvironment and are associated
with male fertility. We investigated the effects of maternal protein restriction on
epididymal angiogenesis and AQP expression in the early stages of postnatal epididymal
development. Pregnant rats were divided into two experimental groups that received
either a normoprotein (17% protein) or low-protein diet (6% protein) during gestation
and lactation. At postnatal day (PND)7 and PND14, male offspring were euthanized,
the epididymides were subjected to morphometric and microvascular density analyses
and to VEGF-A, VEGF-r2, AQP1 and AQP9 expression analyses. The maternal low-protein
diet decreased AQP9 and VEGFr-2 expression, decreased epididymal microvascularity
and altered the morphometric features of the epididymal epithelium; no changes in
AQP1 expression were observed at the beginning of postnatal epididymal development.
Maternal protein restriction alters microvascularization and affects molecules involved
in the epidydimal microenvironment, resulting in morphometric alterations related
to a delay in the beginning of epididymis postnatal development.