Maternal undernutrition throughout pregnancy increases adrenocorticotrophin receptor and steroidogenic acute regulatory protein gene expression in the adrenal gland of twin fetal sheep during late gestation

L J Edwards, A E Bryce, C L Coulter, I C McMillen
Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 2002 October 31, 196 (1): 1-10
We have previously demonstrated that maternal undernutrition during either the 'periconceptional' (i.e. from 60 days (d) before until 7 d after mating) or 'gestational' periods (i.e. from 8 d after mating until the end of pregnancy) have differential effects on the subsequent development of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis and on adrenal growth and steroidogenesis in the sheep fetus during late gestation (term=147+/-3 d gestation). The specific mechanisms by which periconceptional or gestational undernutrition result in activation of the fetal HPA axis in late gestation are unclear. We have therefore investigated the impact of maternal nutrient restriction imposed either during the periconceptional period, or between 8 and 147 d gestation on the expression of specific genes in the fetal pituitary and adrenal which regulate adrenal steroidogenesis in late gestation. Ewes were maintained on either a Control (C) or Restricted (R, 70% of C) diet from 60 d before until 7 d after mating (periconceptional period) and then maintained on either a Control or Restricted diet from 8 d after mating for the remainder of pregnancy (gestational period). Four nutritional treatment groups were therefore generated (C-C, C-R, R-R and R-C). Whilst periconceptional undernutrition (R-R and R-C groups) resulted in higher fetal plasma adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) at 135-146 d gestation, there was no change in the relative level of expression of the ACTH receptor (MC2R), steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) or steroidogenic enzyme mRNAs in the fetal adrenal in late gestation. Exposure to gestational undernutrition (R-R and C-R groups), however, resulted in a stimulation in the relative level of expression of MC2R mRNA (P=0.001) and StAR mRNA (P=0.007) in the fetal adrenal during late gestation. This study provides new insights into the potential mechanisms by which alterations of the nutrient environment of the fetus at different stages of gestation may result in differential activation of the fetal HPA axis.

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