The mechanisms responsible for changes to long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LC PUFA) status during pregnancy have not been fully elucidated.

Tissue samples were collected from virgin and pregnant (day 12 and 20) female rats. LC PUFA status, sex hormone concentrations and hepatic mRNA expression of FADS1, FADS2 and elongase were assessed. Day 20 gestation females had higher plasma and liver docosahexaenoic acid and lower arachidonic acid content than virgin females (P<0.05).

There was higher FADS2 mRNA expression during pregnancy (P=0.051). Progesterone and oestradiol concentrations positively correlated with hepatic FADS2 mRNA expression (P=0.043, P=0.004). Progesterone concentration positively correlated with hepatic n-6 docosapentaenoic acid content (P=0.006), and inversely correlated with intermediates in LC PUFA synthesis including n-3 docosapentaenoic acid, γ-linolenic acid and 20:2n-6 (P<0.05).

Changes in progesterone and oestradiol during pregnancy may promote the synthesis of LC PUFA via increased FADS2 expression.