Although the fetal liver is an active metabolic organ, its oxygen and glucose requirements have not previously been described. We measured hepatic blood flows and the oxygen and glucose differences across the liver in 12 late gestation fetal lambs in utero. Four animals were studied at least 1 wk postsurgically and again 2-5 d later to assess daily variations in hepatic blood flow and metabolism (group I). A second group of eight animals was studied 3-5 d postsurgically during a control period and during acute fetal hypoxia (group II). Under control conditions total hepatic blood flow averaged 400 ml/min per 100 g in both groups, and 75-80% was of umbilical origin. Liver blood flow and oxygen consumption were usually similar during repeated measurements, but in one animal varied considerably. During periods of normoxia, oxygen consumption for both the right and left lobes of liver was 4 ml/min per 100 g. Oxygen consumption of the whole liver accounted for 20% of total fetal oxygen consumption. This was achieved with oxygen extraction of 10-15%, so that hepatic venous blood was well oxygenated and provided an important source of oxygen for other fetal tissues. Under control conditions we could demonstrate no net hepatic uptake or release of glucose suggesting that the liver ultimately utilizes another carbon source to support its oxidative metabolism. During acute hypoxia total liver blood flow and its umbilical venous contribution both fell by 20%. Blood flow to the right lobe of the liver fell twice as much as that to the left lobe. Hepatic oxygen consumption was linearly related to oxygen delivery during the control and hypoxic periods. Consequently, right hepatic oxygen uptake fell by 45% whereas left hepatic oxygen uptake was unchanged, suggesting a functional difference between the lobes. During hypoxia glucose was released from both liver lobes; 6 mg/min per 100 g for the right lobe and 9 mg/min per 100 g for the left lobe. Total hepatic release of glucose was estimated to nearly equal umbilical uptake, so that 45% of the glucose available to fetal tissues was of hepatic origin. We conclude that the fetal liver responds to acute hypoxia by reducing its own oxygen consumption and releasing glucose to facilitate anaerobic metabolism.


J Bristow, A M Rudolph, J Itskovitz, R Barnes


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