The impact of maternal synthetic glucocorticoid administration in late pregnancy on fetal and early neonatal hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axes regulatory genes is dependent upon dose and gestational age at exposure Journal Articles uri icon

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  • In this study, we determined the gene and/or protein expression of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis regulatory molecules following synthetic glucocorticoid exposures. Pregnant sheep received intramuscular saline or betamethasone (BET) injections at 104 (BET-1), 104 and 111(BET-2) or 104, 111 and 118 (BET-3) days of gestation (dG). Samples were collected at numerous time-points between 75 dG and 12 weeks postnatal age. In the BET-3 treatment group, fetal plasma cortisol levels were lower at 145 dG than controls and gestational length was lengthened significantly. The cortisol:adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) ratio in fetal plasma of control and BET-3 fetuses rose significantly between132 and 145 dG, and remained elevated in lambs at 6 and 12 weeks of age; this rise was truncated at day 145 in fetuses of BET-3 treated mothers. After BET treatment, fetal and postnatal pituitary proopiomelanocortin mRNA levels were reduced from 109 dG to 12 weeks postnatal age; pituitary prohormone convertase 1 and 2 mRNA levels were reduced at 145 dG and postnatally; hypothalamic arginine vasopressin mRNA levels were lowered at all time-points, but corticotrophin-releasing hormone mRNA levels were reduced only in postnatal lambs. Maternal BET increased late fetal and/or postnatal adrenal mRNA levels of ACTH receptor and 3β hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase but decreased steroidogenic acute regulatory protein and P450 17-α hydroxylase. The altered mRNA levels of key HPA axis regulatory proteins after maternal BET injections suggests processes that may subserve long-term changes in HPA activity in later life after prenatal exposure to synthetic glucocorticoids.


  • Li, S
  • Moss, TJM
  • Nitsos, I
  • Matthews, SG
  • Challis, JRG
  • Newnham, JP
  • Sloboda, Deborah

publication date

  • February 2013

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