J Physiol 2004 Jul 14;558(Pt 1):305-18. Epub 2004 May 14.
Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Medical Sciences Building, 1 King's College Circle, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1A8, Canada.
Pregnant guinea pigs were treated with dexamethasone (1 mg kg(-1)) or vehicle on days 40-41, 50-51 and 60-61 of gestation, after which animals delivered normally. Adult male offspring were catheterized at 145 days of age and subjected to tests of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function in basal and activated states. Animals exposed to dexamethasone in utero (mat-dex) exhibited increased hippocampus-to-brain weight ratio, increased adrenal-to-body weight ratio and increased mean arterial pressure. There were no effects on gestation length, birth weight and postnatal growth. There were no overall differences in diurnal plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol profiles, though there were subtle differences during the subjective afternoon between control and mat-dex offspring. A significant decrease in initial ACTH suppression was observed following dexamethasone injection in mat-dex offspring compared to control offspring. Molecular analysis revealed significantly increased MR mRNA expression in the limbic system and particularly in the dentate gyrus in mat-dex offspring. In the anterior pituitary, both pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) mRNA levels were significantly elevated in mat-dex offspring. In conclusion, (1) repeated prenatal treatment with synthetic glucocorticoid (sGC) permanently programmes organ growth, blood pressure and HPA regulation in mature male offspring and these changes involve modification of corticosteroid receptor expression in the brain and pituitary; (2) the effects of prenatal sGC exposure on HPA function appear to change as a function of age, indicating the importance of investigating HPA and cardiovascular outcome at multiple time points throughout life.