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New Insights into the Utilization of Medium-Chain Triglycerides by the Neonate: Observations from a Piglet Model

Manuscript received 26 December 1996. Initial reviews completed 23 January 1997. Revision accepted 17 February 1997.

Jack Odle

Department of Animal Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695

Because of their unique digestive and metabolic properties, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are used in a variety of nutritional settings, including use as a readily digestible energy source for the neonate. This review examines recent findings from our laboratory related to MCT digestion and metabolism that are drawn from a neonatal piglet model, but which may be clinically relevant to human infants. We have shown that MCT utilization improves rapidly with postnatal age (within 24 h), which is likely due to the ontogeny of pancreatic lipase. Additional data delineate the dramatic effects of emulsification and fatty acid chain length (within the medium-chain family) on utilization, with the suggestion that triacylhexanoate is utilized at the highest rate. Again, these effects are likely mediated via an increase in the kinetics of digestion rather than metabolism. Indeed, using both in vitro and in vivo radiotracer techniques, we were unable to detect metabolic differences among even-chain fatty acid homologues. However, studies with isolated hepatocytes have shown greater oxidation rates of odd-chain fatty acids compared with even-chain homologues, in part as a reult of the anaplerotic potential of propionyl-CoA arising from odd-carbon fatty acid oxidation. In vivo radiotracer studies also showed an improvement in octanoate oxidation to CO2, with a concomitant reduction in urinary dicarboxylic acid excretion when colostrum-deprived piglets were supplemented with L-carnitine. Further metabolic research led to the novel finding that piglets have a very limited hepatic capacity to synthesize ketone bodies, and that acetate may be a relatively important product of hepatic fatty acid oxidation in this species.

Key words: medium-chain triglyceride, fatty acid metabolism, carnitine, swine.