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  • Author: Karen M Moritz x
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James S M Cuffe, Zarqa Saif, Anthony V Perkins, Karen M Moritz and Vicki L Clifton

Maternal dexamethasone exposure in the mouse impairs placental development and programs adult disease in a sexually dimorphic manner. Glucocorticoids bind to different glucocorticoid receptor (GR) isoforms to regulate gene transcription and cellular signaling. We hypothesized that sexually dimorphic placental responses to glucocorticoids are due to differences in GR isoforms present in the placenta. Pregnant C57Bl6 mice were exposed to saline or dexamethasone from E12.5 until E14.5 (1 µg/kg/h) before the collection of placentae. Cytoplasmic and nuclear protein fractions were extracted from placentae of male and female fetuses for Western blot analysis of GR isoforms. Eight known isoforms of the GR were detected in the mouse placenta including the translational isoforms GRα-A, B, C and D1–3 and the splice variants GRA and GRP. The expression of GRA, GRP and each of the GRα isoforms were altered by dexamethasone in relation to fetal sex and cellular location. Placentae of female fetuses had higher GRα-A and GRP expression in the cytoplasm than males, and GRα-C was more highly expressed in the nucleus of females than that in males. Dexamethasone significantly increased the cytoplasmic expression of GRα-A, but reduced the expression of GRα-C in placentae of males. Dexamethasone increased the expression of the GRα-C-regulated genes Sgk1 and Bcl2l11, particularly in females. The cleaved caspase-3 staining in placental sections indicated GRα-C may mediate sex differences in dexamethasone-induced apoptosis. These findings may underlie the sex-specific placental adaptations that regulate different growth profiles in males and females and different risks for programmed disease outcomes in offspring.

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Melanie Tran, Linda A Gallo, Andrew J Jefferies, Karen M Moritz and Mary E Wlodek

Intrauterine growth restriction increases adult metabolic disease risk with evidence to suggest that suboptimal conditions in utero can have transgenerational effects. We determined whether impaired glucose tolerance, reduced insulin secretion, and pancreatic deficits are evident in second-generation (F2) male and female offspring from growth-restricted mothers, in a rat model of uteroplacental insufficiency. Late gestation uteroplacental insufficiency was induced by bilateral uterine vessel ligation (restricted) or sham surgery (control) in Wistar-Kyoto rats. First-generation (F1) control and restricted females were mated with normal males and F2 offspring studied at postnatal day 35 and at 6 and 12 months. F2 glucose tolerance, insulin secretion, and sensitivity were assessed at 6 and 12 months and pancreatic morphology was quantified at all study ages. At 6 months, F2 restricted male offspring exhibited blunted first-phase insulin response (−35%), which was associated with reduced pancreatic β-cell mass (−29%). By contrast, F2 restricted females had increased β-cell mass despite reduced first-phase insulin response (−38%). This was not associated with any changes in plasma estradiol concentrations. Regardless of maternal birth weight, F2 control and restricted males had reduced homeostatic model assessment of insulin resistance and elevated plasma triglyceride concentrations at 6 months and reduced whole-body insulin sensitivity at 6 and 12 months compared with females. We report that low maternal birth weight is associated with reduced first-phase insulin response and gender-specific differences in pancreatic morphology in the F2. Further studies will define the mode(s) of disease transmission, including direct insults to developing gametes, adverse maternal responses to pregnancy, or inherited mechanisms.

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Tracey A Quinn, Udani Ratnayake, Margie Castillo-Melendez, Karen M Moritz, Hayley Dickinson and David W Walker

Antenatal stress disturbs the development of the fetal hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and adrenal steroidogenesis. We investigated the effect of brief maternal exposure to high glucocorticoids (dexamethasone (DEX)) at mid- and late-pregnancy on adrenal structure and production of steroids in spiny mouse. Pregnant spiny mice were treated for 60 h with 125 μg/kg DEX or saline s.c. by osmotic minipump at day 20 (0.5) or 30 (0.75) of gestation. Immunohistochemical expression of steroidogenic acute regulatory-protein (StAR), 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3βHSD), 17-hydroxylase,17-20lyase (P450C17), and cytochromeb5 (CYTB5) was determined in adrenals on postnatal (P) day 170±20. DHEA, testosterone, and cortisol were measured by RIA. Maternal DEX at 20 days significantly reduced the expression of STAR, P450C17 (CYP17A1), and CYTB5 in the adrenal zona reticularis (ZR) of adult offspring, with greater change in male vs female offspring (P<0.05). Plasma DHEA was decreased in male offspring from DEX-treated (6.84±1.24 ng/ml) vs saline-treated (13±0.06 ng/ml; P=0.01) dams, and the DHEA:cortisol ratio was lower in males (P<0.05). Testosterone levels increased in male offspring from DEX (266.03±50.75 pg/ml) vs saline (83.47±32.3 pg/ml, P<0.05)-treated dams. DEX treatment at 0.75 gestation had no significant effect on any parameters measured. This study shows that brief exposure to excess glucocorticoid has long-term impacts on the ZR and adrenal steroidogenesis, affecting the secretion of DHEA and testosterone in male offspring, an effect produced at 0.5 but not at 0.75 gestation. DHEA is important for brain development, and its suppression in adult life might contribute to the neurobehavioral pathologies that can arise after illness and stress during pregnancy.