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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2005 Jan;288(1):R54-61. Epub 2004 Jul 1.

Chronic alterations in ovine maternal corticosteroid levels influence uterine blood flow and placental and fetal growth.

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Department of Pharmacodynamics, College of Pharmacy, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610-0487, USA.


Previous work from this laboratory demonstrated that the elevation of maternal plasma corticosteroid concentrations during pregnancy is important for the support of fetal development. Reducing ovine maternal plasma cortisol concentrations to nonpregnant levels stimulates homeostatic responses that defend fetal blood volume. The present study was designed to test the hypothesis that chronic decreases or increases in maternal plasma cortisol concentration alter uterine and placental blood flow and morphology. Three groups of pregnant ewes and their fetuses were chronically catheterized and studied: ewes infused with cortisol (1; high cortisol), ewes adrenalectomized and underreplaced with cortisol (0.5; low cortisol), and control ewes. The normal increment in uterine blood flow between 120 and 130 days was eliminated in the low-cortisol ewes; conversely, uterine blood flow was increased in the high-cortisol group compared with the control group. Fetal arterial blood pressure was increased in the high-cortisol group compared with controls, but there was no increase in fetal arterial pressure from 120 to 130 days of gestation in the low-cortisol group. The fetuses of both low-cortisol and high-cortisol groups had altered placental morphology, with increased proportions of type B placentomes, and overall reduced fetal placental blood flow. The rate of fetal somatic growth was impaired in both low-cortisol and high-cortisol groups compared with the fetuses in the intact group. The results of this study demonstrate that maternal plasma cortisol during pregnancy is an important contributor to the maternal environment supporting optimal conditions for fetal homeostasis and somatic growth.

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