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  • Author: M E Symonds x
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J. M. Brameld, F. Broughton Pipkin and E. M. Symonds


The renal and genital tracts share a common embryological origin; it is thus not surprising that tissues from both can synthesize renin. Preliminary studies showed extremely high concentrations of renin in follicular fluid (FRC) following ovarian stimulation for in-vitro fertilization. This necessitated complete revalidation of the renin assays and showed that data obtained using commercial kits were invalid. An assay protocol was developed using a 1:2 dilution of follicular fluid taken into EDTA (0·3 mol/l) and o-phenanthroline (0·05 mol/l). The assay was performed at pH 7·5 in the presence of excess exogenous (sheep) renin substrate, with incubation periods of 5, 10 and 15 min at 37 °C. This protocol resulted in the linear generation of angiotensin I (AI). Activation of inactive renin was performed using eightfold more trypsin than was required for plasma samples. Follicular renin substrate concentrations (FRS) were measured using the same assay methodology as used for measurement of plasma renin substrate concentrations (PRS). Storage of samples at −18 °C for up to 2 months was found not to affect the FRC, although repeated freeze-thaw cycles did.

FRC and plasma renin concentrations (PRC) were very similar in 25 unstimulated control women, studied in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle. Trypsin activation increased follicular total renin concentration (FTRC) more than plasma total renin concentration (PTRC) (P< 0·0001). FRS was slightly higher than PRS (P<0·02). Ovarian stimulation with clomiphene citrate (CC; six women) was without effect on these parameters. However, hyperstimulation with CC, human menopausal gonadotrophins (hMG) and human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) resulted in substantial increments in FRC and FTRC (P< 0·0001 for both) and somewhat smaller rises in PRC and PTRC (P<0·05; P < 0·0005). There was also a small rise in PRS (P< 0·0002), but no change in FRS. Treatment with buserelin, hMG and hCG was associated with similarly large increases in renin concentrations, and also increases in both FRS and PRS (P< 0·003; P<0·007) in comparison with samples from women stimulated with CC, hMG and hCG.

Increased plasma renin activity has previously been reported in stimulated ovarian follicular fluid. Our data show clearly that this is primarily due to a rise in FRC and FTRC and not to a rise in FRS. The use of the anti-oestrogen CC alone for ovarian stimulation was without effect on the follicular renin-angiotensin system. Thus we suggest that it is the gonadotrophins themselves which stimulate renin production, presumably by the theca cells. The much smaller rise in PRC and PTRC may reflect the effects of an overspill into the systemic circulation or, less likely, effects of the gonadotrophins on renal renin production. There is no evidence for this latter suggestion. FRS was increased only slightly by ovarian stimulation and must be presumed to be rate-limiting in the generation of AI.

Journal of Endocrinology (1990) 127, 513–521

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M. E. Symonds, D. C. Andrews and P. Johnson


Oxygen consumption (VO2), carbon dioxide production (VCO2), heart rate and the arterial plasma concentrations of glucose, non-esterified fatty acids, thyroxine (T4), 3,5,3′-tri-iodothyronine (T3), TSH, insulin, cortisol and GH were measured before and after feeding a formula milk diet to lambs aged 9, 21, 33 and 46 days. In all age groups, VO2, VCO2 and heart rate increased significantly following feeding and this effect was greatest at 9 days of age. Both VO2 and VCO2 before and after feeding decreased with age. Plasma concentrations of T3 before feeding did not change with age, but plasma T3 levels after feeding were significantly higher in lambs aged 9 days compared with 33 and 46 days. There was no effect of feeding on TSH or age on plasma TSH and T4 concentrations. In all age groups, glucose concentration increased after feeding and was paralleled by a rise in insulin concentration. At 9 and 21 days of age plasma glucose and insulin concentrations reached a plateau after the initial postprandial increase and together with a rise in respiratory quotient was indicative of a stimulation of carbohydrate oxidation. Plasma concentrations of GH increased after feeding at 21 days and older, when the mean growth rate was also stimulated by 75%. Basal metabolic rate and dietary-induced thermogenesis both decreased with age and, as a result, metabolism associated with an increase in GH levels after feeding became more efficient in terms of growth rate after 21 days. It is therefore concluded that there are major endocrine and cardiorespiratory changes in response to feeding of the young lamb which are important in stimulating and/or facilitating its growth and development.

Journal of Endocrinology (1989) 123,295–302

Open access

M A Hyatt, D H Keisler, H Budge and M E Symonds

Maternal parity influences size at birth, postnatal growth and body composition with firstborn infants being more likely to be smaller with increased fat mass, suggesting that adiposity is set in early life. The precise effect of parity on fat mass and its endocrine sensitivity remains unclear and was, therefore, investigated in the present study. We utilised an established sheep model in which perirenal–abdominal fat mass (the major fat depot in the neonatal sheep) increases ∼10-fold over the first month of life and focussed on the impact of parity on glucocorticoid sensitivity and adipokine expression in the adipocyte. Twin-bearing sheep of similar body weight and adiposity that consumed identical diets were utilised, and maternal blood samples were taken at 130 days of gestation. One offspring from each twin pair was sampled at 1 day of age, coincident with the time of maximal recruitment of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1), whilst its sibling was sampled at 1 month, when UCP1 had disappeared. Plasma leptin was lower in nulliparous mothers than in multiparous mothers, and offspring of nulliparous mothers possessed more adipose tissue with increased mRNA abundance of leptin, glucocorticoid receptor and UCP2, adaptations that persisted up to 1 month of age when gene expression for interleukin-6 and adiponectin was also raised. The increase in fat mass associated with firstborn status is therefore accompanied by a resetting of the leptin and glucocorticoid axis within the adipocyte. Our findings emphasise the importance of parity in determining adipose tissue development and that firstborn offspring have an increased capacity for adipogenesis which may be critical in determining later adiposity.

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M G Gnanalingham, A Mostyn, D S Gardner, T Stephenson and M E Symonds

Glucocorticoid action has a major role in regulating fetal and postnatal lung development, although its impact on mitochondrial development is less well understood. Critically, the consequences of any change in glucocorticoid action and mitochondrial function in early life may not be limited to the postnatal period, but may extend into later life. This paper focuses on more recent findings on the impact of ontogeny, fetal cortisol status, maternal nutrient restriction and postnatal leptin administration on mitochondrial uncoupling protein (UCP)-2, glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and 11 β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11βHSD1) isoform abundance in the lung. For example, in sheep, GR and 11βHSD1 mRNA are maximal at 140 days’ gestation (term ~147 days), while UCP2 mRNA peaks at 1 day after birth and then decreases with advancing age. In the fetus, chronic umbilical cord compression enhances the abundance of these genes, an outcome that can also be produced after birth following chronic, but not acute, leptin administration. Irrespective of the timing of maternal nutrient restriction in pregnancy, glucocorticoid sensitivity and UCP2 abundance are both upregulated in the lungs of the resulting offspring. In conclusion, prenatal and postnatal endocrine challenges have distinct effects on mitochondrial development in the lung resulting from changes in glucocorticoid action, which can persist into later life. As a consequence, changes in glucocorticoid sensitivity and mitochondrial protein abundance have the potential to be used to identify those at greatest risk of developing later lung disease.

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S Pearce, H Budge, A Mostyn, E Genever, R Webb, P Ingleton, A M Walker, M E Symonds and T Stephenson

A primary role of the prolactin receptor (PRLR) during fetal and postnatal development has been suggested to be the regulation of uncoupling protein (UCP) expression. We, therefore, determined whether: (1) the rate of loss of UCP1 from brown adipose tissue after birth was paralleled by the disappearance of PRLR; and (2) administration of either pituitary extract prolactin (PRL) containing a mixture of posttranslationally modified forms or its pseudophosphorylated form (S179D PRL) improved thermoregulation and UCP1 function over the first week of neonatal life. PRLR abundance was greatest in adipose tissue 6 h after birth before declining up to 30 days of age, a trend mirrored by first a gain and then a loss of UCP1. In contrast, in the liver – which does not possess UCPs –a postnatal decline in PRLR was not observed. Administration of PRL resulted in an acute increase in colonic temperature in conjunction with increased plasma concentrations of non-esterified fatty acids and, as a result, the normal postnatal decline in body temperature was delayed. S179D PRL at lower concentrations resulted in a transient rise in colonic temperature at both 2 and 6 days of age. In conclusion, we have demonstrated a close relationship between the ontogeny of UCP1 and the PRLR. Exogenous PRL administration elicits a thermogenic effect suggesting an important role for the PRLR in regulating UCP1 function.

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M G Gnanalingham, A Mostyn, J Wang, R Webb, D H Keisler, N Raver, M C Alves-Guerra, C Pecqueur, B Miroux, T Stephenson and M E Symonds

Many tissues undergo a rapid transition after birth, accompanied by dramatic changes in mitochondrial protein function. In particular, uncoupling protein (UCP) abundance increases at birth in the lung and adipose tissue, to then gradually decline, an adaptation that is important in enabling normal tissue function. Leptin potentially mediates some of these changes and is known to promote the loss of UCP1 from brown fat but its effects on UCP2 and related mitochondrial proteins (i.e. voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) and cytochrome c) in other tissues are unknown. We therefore determined the effects of once-daily jugular venous administration of ovine recombinant leptin on mitochondrial protein abundance as determined by immunoblotting in tissues that do (i.e. the brain and pancreas) and do not (i.e. liver and skeletal muscle) express UCP2. Eight pairs of 1-day-old lambs received either 100 μg leptin or vehicle daily for 6 days, before tissue sampling on day 7. Administration of leptin diminished UCP2 abundance in the pancreas, but not the brain. Leptin administration had no affect on the abundance of VDAC or cytochrome c in any tissue examined. In leptin-administered animals, but not controls, UCP2 abundance in the pancreas was positively correlated with VDAC and cytochrome c content, and UCP2 abundance in the brain with colonic temperature. In conclusion, leptin administration to neonatal lambs causes a tissue-specific loss of UCP2 from the pancreas. These effects may be important in the regulation of neonatal tissue development and potentially for optimising metabolic control mechanisms in later life.

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A Mostyn, J C Litten, K S Perkins, M C Alves-Guerra, C Pecqueur, B Miroux, M E Symonds and L Clarke

The present study aimed to determine whether porcine genotype and/or postnatal age influenced mRNA abundance or protein expression of uncoupling protein (UCP)2 or 3 in subcutaneous adipose tissue (AT) and skeletal muscle (SM) and the extent to which these differences are associated with breed-specific discordance in endocrine and metabolic profiles. Piglets from commercial and Meishan litters were ranked according to birth weight. Tissue samples were obtained from the three median piglets from each litter on either day 0, 4, 7, 14 or 21 of neonatal life. UCP2 protein abundance in AT was similar between genotypes on the first day of life, but it was elevated at all subsequent postnatal ages (P<0.05) in AT of Meishan piglets. In contrast, UCP2 mRNA abundance was lower in Meishans up to 14 days of age. UCP2 mRNA expression was not correlated with protein abundance in either breed at any age. UCP3 mRNA in AT was similar between breeds up to day 7; thereafter, expression was higher (general linear model, P<0.05) in Meishan piglets. Conversely, UCP3 mRNA expression in SM was higher in commercial piglets after day 7. Colonic temperature remained lower in Meishan than commercial piglets throughout the study; this was most obvious in the immediate post-partum period when Meishan piglets had lower (P<0.05) plasma triiodothyronine. In conclusion, we have demonstrated that porcine genotype influences the expression and abundance of UCP2 and 3, an influence which may, in part, be due to the distinctive endocrine profiles associated with each genotype.

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D S Gardner, B W M Van Bon, J Dandrea, P J Goddard, S F May, V Wilson, T Stephenson and M E Symonds

Glucocorticoids are proposed to act as intermediary factors that transcribe the developmental programming sequelae of maternal nutrient restriction (NR). Periconceptional under-nutrition of sheep markedly activates fetal hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity leading to preterm birth, while transient undernutrition during late gestation in sheep programs adult HPA axis function. To date, no study has examined resting or stimulated HPA axis function in young adult offspring following a periconceptional nutritional challenge. In the present study, 20 ewes were either periconceptionally undernourished (50% metabolisable energy requirements from days 1 to 30 gestation; NR, n = 8) or fed to control levels (100% requirement; controls, n = 12) to term (147 days gestation). Ewes were blood sampled remotely at 2 and 30 days using automated blood sampling equipment. Thereafter, offspring (controls, n = 6/6 males/females; NR, n = 4/4 males/females) were reared to 1 year of age and on separate days received either an i.v. corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH; 0.5 μg/kg) and vasopressin (AVP; 0.1 μg/kg) challenge or a synthetic ACTH i.v. bolus (Synacthen; 1.25 μg/kg), and blood samples were taken (manually and remotely) at appropriate intervals for measurement of plasma ACTH and cortisol accordingly. Resting plasma cortisol, assessed remotely, was similar in ewes during undernutrition (control 18.3 ± 1.4 vs NR 23.4 ± 1.9 nmol/l) and in offspring at 4 months of age (control male 17.6 ± 2.9; control female 17.2 ± 0.4, NR male 16.5 ± 3.1, NR female 21.7 ± 4.0 nmol/l). At 12 months of age, however, resting plasma cortisol was significantly increased in NR females (control male 28.0 ± 1.5, control female 32.9 ± 9, NR male 32 ± 7, NR female 53 ± 10 nmol/l, F 5.7, P = 0.02) despite no difference in plasma ACTH concentration. There was an interaction between nutritional group and gender for both the pituitary and adrenal responses to CRH and AVP, i.e. for controls, females exhibited increased plasma ACTH or cortisol relative to males but for NR this trend was either not present or reversed. The adrenocortical response to synthetic ACTH was gender-dependent only, being greater in female offspring. Combined CRH and AVP provoked a transient hypertension and marked bradycardia in all animals, irrespective of dietary group or gender and could be effectively reproduced by an AVP bolus alone. In conclusion, the present study has shown that periconceptional undernutrition of sheep has only a minor influence on HPA axis function in their young adult offspring when considered alongside the effect of gender per se.

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M A Hyatt, G S Gopalakrishnan, J Bispham, S Gentili, I C McMillen, S M Rhind, M T Rae, C E Kyle, A N Brooks, C Jones, H Budge, D Walker, T Stephenson and M E Symonds

The liver is a major metabolic and endocrine organ of critical importance in the regulation of growth and metabolism. Its function is determined by a complex interaction of nutritionally regulated counter-regulatory hormones. The extent to which hepatic endocrine sensitivity can be programed in utero and whether the resultant adaptations persist into adulthood is unknown and was therefore the subject of this study. Young adult male sheep born to mothers that were fed either a control diet (i.e.100% of total live weight-maintenance requirements) throughout gestation or 50% of that intake (i.e. nutrient restricted (NR)) from 0 to 95 days gestation and thereafter 100% of requirements (taking into account increasing fetal mass) were entered into the study. All mothers gave birth normally at term, the singleton offspring were weaned at 16 weeks, and then reared at pasture until 3 years of age when their livers were sampled. NR offspring were of similar birth and body weights at 3 years of age when they had disproportionately smaller livers than controls. The abundance of mRNA for GH, prolactin, and IGF-II receptors, plus hepatocyte growth factor and suppressor of cytokine signaling-3 were all lower in livers of NR offspring. In contrast, the abundance of the mitochondrial protein voltage-dependent anion channel and the pro-apoptotic factor Bax were up regulated relative to controls. In conclusion, maternal nutrient restriction in early gestation results in adult offspring with smaller livers. This may be mediated by alterations in both hepatic mitogenic and apoptotic factors.