Objective: To compare the effects of single and repeated courses of corticosteroids on brain growth in fetal sheep.
Methods: Pregnant sheep were given intramuscular betamethasone (0.5 mg/kg) at 104 days' gestation followed at 111, 118, and 124 days by equivalent volumes of sterile normal saline (n = 12) or betamethasone (n = 12). Controls received equivalent volumes of sterile normal saline at all four intervals (n = 12). Lambs were delivered at 125 (preterm) or 145 (term) days. After perfusion, we measured weights (grams) for whole brain, cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem, volumes (milliliters) for whole brain and cerebrum, and maximum cerebral anterior-posterior length, width, and depth (centimeters).
Results: In the single-injection group at preterm, there were no significant differences (P = .070) in whole-brain weight between the corticosteroid-treated animals (38.0 +/- 1.81 g) and controls (42.5 +/- 1.65 g). Cerebral length and depth were significantly reduced in the corticosteroid group (P < .05); other measures were not significantly different. At term, whole-brain weight was significantly lower (47.5 +/- 1.70 g; P = .022) compared with controls (53.4 +/- 1.73 g). All other measures were significantly reduced (P < .05) except cerebral and brain-stem weights and cerebral length. In the group that received repeated injections at preterm, whole-brain weight was significantly reduced (35.5 +/- 1.65 g; P = .005) compared with controls (42.5 +/- 1.65 g). All other measures were significantly reduced (P < .05) except cerebellar and brain-stem weights. At term, whole-brain weight was also significantly reduced (42.4 +/- 1.52 g; P = .001) compared with controls (53.4 +/- 1.73 g) as were all other measures (P < .05).
Conclusion: Administration of single and repeated courses of corticosteroids to pregnant sheep retarded fetal brain growth.