We have measured fetal and maternal plasma concentrations of cortisol, prolactin, GH and glucose in samples collected during a 24-h period in 14 animals between 127 and 142 days of gestation. There was a significant increase in both the mean daily plasma cortisol concentration and mean daily coefficient of variation (C.V.) of plasma cortisol concentrations after 135 days of gestation. There was also a significant variation in the fetal plasma cortisol concentrations with a peak occurring at 19.00 h. There was a significant sinusoidal diurnal rhythm in the plasma prolactin concentrations in both the fetal sheep and pregnant ewe and the maximal prolactin concentrations occurred between 19.00 and 23.00 h (fetal) and 21.00 and 01.00 h (maternal). Although no significant diurnal variation was detected in fetal plasma GH concentrations, there was a significant sinusoidal diurnal rhythm in the plasma GH concentrations of the pregnant ewe and the maximal maternal GH concentrations occurred between 21.00 and 01.00 h. Both the fetal and maternal plasma glucose concentrations showed a significant sinusoidal diurnal rhythm. The maximal maternal and fetal glucose concentrations were measured between 21.00 and 01.00 h and between 23.00 and 03.00 h respectively. We have therefore established that diurnal variations in plasma cortisol and prolactin concentrations exist prenatally. Whether the presence of such hormonal rhythms reflects the activity of an endogenous fetal circadian pacemaker remains to be established.
J. Endocr. (1987) 114, 65–72