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Adina Dumitrescu, Graham W Aberdeen, Gerald J Pepe and Eugene D Albrecht

Although the human and the nonhuman primate fetal adrenal glands undergo a highly unique pattern of cortical zone-specific intrauterine growth and development, studies of the regulatory components of the cell cycle responsible for this growth have not been conducted. Therefore, the present study determined expression of the cell cycle regulators, cyclin D1 and cyclin E, and their cyclin-dependent kinases, Cdk2, Cdk4, and Cdk6, and Ki67 a marker of cell proliferation within the baboon fetal adrenal cortex during advancing stages of gestation. Fetal adrenal glands were obtained on days 60 (early), 100 (mid), and 160–170 (late) of gestation (term = 184 days). Mean ( ± s.e.) cyclin D1 mRNA levels, determined by RT-PCR and expressed relative to 18S rRNA, were similar at early (0.85 ± 0.09) and mid (1.04 ± 0.08) gestation, then decreased (P < 0.001, ANOVA) approximately 50% by late gestation (0.57 ± 0.04). Cyclin E mRNA levels were also similar at early (2.03 ± 0.07) and mid (1.63 ± 0.31) gestation, and decreased by 70% (P < 0.001) in late gestation (0.53 ± 0.09). Coinciding with the decrease in cyclin D1 and cyclin E, the percentage of Ki67 positive cells in the definitive zone decreased twofold (P < 0.01) between mid (28.2 ± 3.6) and late (13.8 ± 1.7) gestation. The cyclin D1 and cyclin E proteins, determined by immunocytochemistry, were expressed at high levels in the definitive zone of baboon fetal adrenal gland, where they decreased between mid- and late gestation. In contrast, immunocytochemical expression of the functionally important steroidogenic enzyme Delta; 5-3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3β-HSD) became abundant in the definitive and transitional zones with advancing pregnancy. However, fetal adrenal Cdk2, Cdk4, and Cdk6 mRNA levels and protein immunoexpression were similar in the baboon fetal adrenal at early-, mid-, and late gestation. In summary, expression of cyclin D1, cyclin E, and Ki67 decreased, while 3β-HSD expression increased, in the fetal adrenal cortex, particularly in the definitive zone, between mid- and late-baboon gestation. We propose that a developmental decline in cellular proliferation permits functional differentiation of fetal adrenal cortical cells, leading to increased production of steroid hormones important for placental estrogen synthesis and maturation of organ systems within the developing fetus.

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Adina Maniu, Graham W Aberdeen, Terrie J Lynch, Jerry L Nadler, Soon O K Kim, Michael J Quon, Gerald J Pepe and Eugene D Albrecht

This study tested the hypothesis that estrogen programs mechanisms within the primate fetus that promote insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis in offspring. Glucose tolerance tests were performed longitudinally in prepubertal offspring of baboons untreated or treated on days 100 to 165/175 of gestation (term is 184 days) with the aromatase inhibitor letrozole, which decreased fetal estradiol levels by 95%. Basal plasma insulin levels were over two-fold greater in offspring delivered to letrozole-treated than untreated animals. Moreover, the peak 1min, average of the 1, 3, and 5min, and area under the curve blood glucose and plasma insulin levels after an i.v. bolus of glucose were greater (P<0.05 and P<0.01, respectively) in offspring deprived of estrogen in utero than in untreated animals and partially or completely restored in letrozole plus estradiol-treated baboons. The value for the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance was 2.5-fold greater (P<0.02) and quantitative insulin sensitivity check index lower (P<0.01) in offspring of letrozole-treated versus untreated animals and returned to almost normal in letrozole plus estradiol-treated animals. The exaggerated rise in glucose and insulin levels after glucose challenge in baboon offspring deprived of estrogen in utero indicates that pancreatic beta cells had the capacity to secrete insulin, but that peripheral glucose uptake and/or metabolism were impaired, indicative of insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. We propose that estrogen normally programs mechanisms in utero within the developing primate fetus that lead to insulin sensitivity, normal glucose tolerance, and the capacity to metabolize glucose after birth.