This study investigated whether undernutrition (UN) during late fetal life can programme the subsequent adult life adaptation of glucose homeostasis and metabolism during pregnancy and lactation. Twenty-four primiparous experimental ewes were used. Twelve had been exposed to a prenatal NORM level of nutrition (maternal diet similar to 15 MJ ME/d) and 12 to a LOW level of nutrition (maternal diet similar to 7 MJ ME/d) during the last 6 weeks pre-partum. The experimental ewes were subjected to two intravenous glucose tolerance tests (IGTT) in late gestation (one prior to (G-IGTT) and one by the end of a feed restriction period (RG-IGTT)), and a third around peak lactation (L-IGTT). LOW had lower basal insulin concentrations during lactation, and significantly decreased absolute insulin secretion during the L-IGTT in spite of similar glucose tolerance, indicating increased insulin sensitivity in LOW during lactation. There was no effect of prenatal UN on glucose tolerance during G-IGTT, however, during RG-IGTT LOW was more glucose intolerant and apparently more insulin resistant compared to NORM. In conclusion, UN during late fetal life in sheep impairs subsequent pancreatic insulin secretory capacity during adult life, and reduces plasticity of down-regulation of insulin secretion in response to a metabolic challenge. Furthermore, prenatal UN appears to programme mechanisms, which in young adult females can shift the insulin hypersensitivity observed during early lactation into an insulin resistance observed during late gestation and feed restriction. Early postnatal UN caused by lowered milk intake in early postnatal life may have contributed to these phenomena. (c) 2007 Elsevier Inc. All fights reserved.