1. Whole-body, hind-limb and uterine tissue metabolism of glucose was studied using a combination of isotopic and arterio-venous difference techniques in shorn and unshorn pregnant sheep over the final 4 weeks of pregnancy. This was combined with the measurement of the concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide in arterial blood and plasma concentrations of lactate, acetate, non-esterified fatty acids, 3-hydroxybutyrate, glycerol, growth hormone (GH), insulin, glucagon, cortisol, thyroxine and 3, 5, 3'-triiodothyronine (T3).
2. Glucose entry rate was 28 % higher in shorn ewes compared with unshorn controls, even though there was no difference in the arterial plasma concentration of glucose. This effect may have been caused by a decrease in the molar rate, insulin: glucagon (I:G), which was 40% lower in shorn ewes as a result of a significant decrease in the plasma concentration of insulin. There was no difference in the plasma concentration of cortisol or GH.
3. Blood flow across the hind-limb or uterine tissues was not significantly different between shorn and unshorn groups, neither were the net glucose uptake, glucose oxidation rate or contribution of glucose to O2 consumption across these tissues.
4. Insulin-tolerance tests performed on a separate group of shorn and unshorn ewes showed an increased sensitivity to the hypoglycaemic effects of insulin in the shorn group.
5. There was no significant difference between shorn and unshorn animals in the contribution of glucose to CO2 output or in the proportion of glucose entry rate oxidized. CO2 entry rate was 18% higher in shorn ewes compared with unshorn controls which resulted in a 26 % higher estimated value for heat production. There was a 47 % increase in glucose oxidation rate in shorn ewes but there was no significant difference in the proportion of total heat production which was derived from glucose. The arterial concentrations of O2 and CO2 were significantly higher in shorn ewes, which may be an indication of the higher metabolic rate in these animals. This effect may be mediated via a significant rise in plasma T3 concentration in the shorn group.
6. It is concluded that as a result of long-term cold exposure there is a significant increase in whole-body glucose entry and oxidation rates in the shorn pregnant ewe. The increase in insulin sensitivity at the same time as a decrease in plasma insulin concentration may represent a mechanism to ensure continued glucose supply to insulinsensitive tissues while the concomitant decrease in plasma I:G stimulates hepatic gluconeogenesis.