Repetitive prenatal glucocorticoids increase lung endothelial nitric oxide synthase expression in ovine fetuses delivered at term

Pediatr Res. 2000 Jul;48(1):75-83. doi: 10.1203/00006450-200007000-00014.


Antenatal administration of glucocorticoids has been shown to improve postnatal lung function after preterm birth in the ovine fetus. Mechanisms of steroid-induced lung maturation include increased surfactant production and altered parenchymal lung structure. Whether steroid treatment also affects lung vascular function is unclear. Because nitric oxide contributes to the fall in pulmonary vascular resistance at birth, we hypothesized that the improvement of postnatal lung function of preterm lambs after treatment with prenatal glucocorticoids may be in part caused by an increase in endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) activity. To determine whether glucocorticoid treatment increases lung eNOS expression, we measured eNOS protein content by Western blot analysis of distal lung homogenates and immunostaining of formalin-fixed lungs from ovine fetuses delivered at preterm and term gestation after prenatal administration of glucocorticoids. Treatment protocols were followed in which ewes were treated with intramuscular betamethasone (0.5 mg/kg) at single or multiple doses at weekly intervals, and fetuses were delivered at 125, 135, or 145 d gestation. All groups were compared with saline-treated controls. Western blot analysis of whole lung homogenates demonstrated a 4-fold increase in eNOS protein content in lambs treated with repetitive doses of glucocorticoids and delivery at term (145 d; p < 0.002). In addition, a small increase in lung eNOS protein content was seen in lambs treated with a single dose of betamethasone at 128 d gestation with delivery at 135 d gestation. In comparison with control animals, there were no differences in lung eNOS content from the remaining lambs treated with glucocorticoids when delivery occurred at preterm ages (125 and 135 d). Immunostaining showed eNOS predominantly in the vascular endothelium in all vessel sizes. Pattern of staining was not altered by treatment with antenatal glucocorticoids. We conclude that maternal treatment with glucocorticoids increases lung eNOS content after multiple doses and delivery at term gestation. We speculate that antenatal glucocorticoids may up-regulate eNOS but that the timing and duration of steroid administration appears to be critical to this response.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Betamethasone / administration & dosage
  • Betamethasone / pharmacology*
  • Cesarean Section
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Injections, Intramuscular
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung / embryology*
  • Lung / enzymology*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • Pregnancy
  • Reference Values
  • Sheep


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Betamethasone
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III