We hypothesized that exposure to synthetic glucocorticoid during rapid brain growth (d50-52, birth = 68 days) in fetal guinea pigs modifies hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function after birth, and that this involves changes in central corticosteroid receptor regulation. On the basis of our previous studies, we proposed that this effect is sex-specific. Pregnant guinea pigs were treated with dexamethasone (1 mg/kg) or vehicle on d50-51 of gestation, and juvenile offspring were euthanized at rest or following isolation stress on postnatal day 18. Dexamethasone increased the length of gestation (1.5 days) and altered body and organ (brain, heart, adrenal) growth. Resting plasma cortisol concentrations were significantly elevated in young male, but not female guinea pigs exposed to dexamethasone as fetuses. In female offspring born to dexamethasone-treated mothers, cortisol responses to isolation stress were attenuated. In males, elevated basal cortisol levels were not increased further by isolation. In the brain, hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor (GR) mRNA levels were significantly lower (10-25%) in females exposed to dexamethasone in utero. In contrast, GR mRNA levels were elevated (10-20%) in males from this prenatal treatment group. Mineralocorticoid receptor mRNA in the limbic system and GR mRNA levels in the pars distalis were unaffected. Pro-opiomelanocortin mRNA was significantly lower (30%) in the male pars intermedia following dexamethasone exposure. In conclusion, prenatal glucocorticoid exposure affects growth and HPA function as well as limbic and hypothalamic GR expression in juvenile offspring, and these effects are highly sex-specific.
Copyright 2001 S. Karger AG, Basel