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J Neuroendocrinol. 1999 May;11(5):343-9.

Adrenal responsiveness and the timing of parturition in hypothalamo-pituitary disconnected ovine foetuses with and without constant adrenocorticotrophin infusion.

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Department of Physiology, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia.


Ovine parturition results from an increase in foetal cortisol secretion in late gestation which is dependent on an intact hypothalamo-pituitary connection. The cortisol surge and parturition fails in hypothalamo-pituitary disconnected (HPD) foetuses but, paradoxically, immunoreactive (ir)-ACTH concentrations and secretory dynamics appear normal. This study compares the occurrence and timing of labour, basal ir-ACTH and cortisol concentrations and adrenal responsiveness in HPD foetuses (HPD/ACTH) receiving constant ACTH(1-24) infusion (43 ng/h/kg) from surgery (114+/-1 days gestational age (GA)) with those of saline-infused HPD or intact foetuses (HPD/SAL and INT/SAL). HPD/ACTH foetuses initiated labour at 147+/-2 days GA, which was not significantly different from INT/SAL foetuses (149+/-1 day GA). HPD/SAL foetuses were killed electively at 146+/-3 days GA with no signs of labour. Foetal ir-ACTH concentrations in all groups were indistinguishable, but only HPD/ACTH and INT/SAL foetuses had a significant cortisol surge. Adrenal responsiveness to ACTH(1-24)(1 microg/kg) was greater in HPD/ACTH foetuses than in HPD/SAL or INT/SAL foetuses at all GAs studied. Adrenal responsiveness in HPD/SAL foetuses exceeded that in INT/SAL foetuses at 120 and 130 days GA but did not change with GA. In summary, the basal cortisol and parturition defect in HPD foetuses was reversed by low-dose ACTH(1-24) infusion. Basal cortisol concentrations were unrelated to adrenal responsiveness. HPD/SAL foetuses had hyper-responsive adrenals compared to those of INT/SAL foetuses until 130 days GA, suggesting that the foetal hypothalamus exerts a negative influence on adrenal cortisol responses before 130 days GA, after which time stimulatory influences predominate.

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