The influence of maternal size on placental, fetal and postnatal growth in the horse. II. Endocrinology of pregnancy

in Journal of Endocrinology

Within-breed artificial insemination and between-breed embryo transfer were carried out in small pony (P) and large Thoroughbred (Tb) mares to create 4 types of horse pregnancy in which the fetus experienced spatial and nutritional deprivation (Tb-in-P; n=8), luxury (P-in-Tb; n=7) or normality (Tb-in-Tb; n=7 and P-in-P; n=7) in utero. Measurement of equine chorionic gonadotrophin (eCG), total conjugated oestrogens and progestagen concentrations in serial peripheral serum samples recovered from all the mares throughout gestation showed that the amount of eCG produced during the first half of gestation was dependent upon the breed of the mare rather than the breed of the fetus being carried. In contrast, the mean total amounts of oestrogens produced, as measured by area under the curve, were significantly greater (P=0.003) in the two types of pregnancy in which a Thoroughbred fetus was being carried (Tb-in-Tb and Tb-in-P) than those in which a pony fetus was gestated (P-in-P and P-in-Tb); the evidence suggests that the Tb fetus may have larger gonads than the P fetus and thereby secrete more C-19 precursor steroids for aromatisation to oestrogens by the placenta. In the final weeks of pregnancy mean plasma progestagen concentrations rose much earlier, and to significantly higher levels (P<0.001), in the Tb-in-P than in the P-in-Tb pregnancies, thereby reflecting the increased fetal stress in the former causing premature maturation of the fetal adrenal gland. This, in turn, resulted in increased secretion of pregnenolone by the adrenal cortex for conversion to progestagens by the placenta.

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