Although estrogen plays a central integrative role in regulating key aspects of placental and fetal endocrine development in the primate, our understanding of the regulation of maturation of the fetal liver is incomplete. In adults, estrogen modulates several aspects of hepatic function. Therefore, the current study determined whether fetal hepatic gene expression development was modulated by estrogen. mRNA differential display was used to identify genes whose expression was altered in fetal livers obtained on d 165 of gestation (term = d 184) from baboons that were untreated or treated on d 60-164 with the aromatase inhibitor CGS 20267 (2 mg/d; sc), which suppressed estrogen levels in the fetus by >95% (p < 0.01). As confirmed by Northern blot, the mRNA levels (ratio to 18s RNA) of metallothionein I (MT-I), porphobilinogen deaminase (PBG-D), and cytochrome P450 2C8 (CYP 2C8) in the livers of estrogen-deprived fetuses were 5-, 12-, and 3-fold higher (p < 0.05) than respective values of untreated fetuses. Moreover, mRNA levels of MT-I and PBG-D, expressed as a ratio to 18s RNA, were 3-fold and 26-fold higher (p < 0.05) on d 60-100 of gestation than on d 165 and in the adult. In contrast, CYP 2C8 mRNA increased 10-fold between d 100 and 165 and was not further altered in adult liver. Immunohistochemistry confirmed expression of MT-I in hepatocytes. Erythropoietic cells, normally present in the fetal baboon liver on d 100 but not on d 165, were also detected on d 165 in animals treated with the aromatase inhibitor. Thus, upregulation of PBG-D mRNA in estrogen-deprived baboons may reflect prolongation of the erythropoietic role of the fetal liver. In summary, these results indicate that the normal developmental change in MT-I, PBG-D, and CYP 2C8 mRNA expression in baboon fetal liver with advancing gestation are dependent on increased secretion of estrogen into the fetus. We suggest, therefore, that estrogen regulates normal development of the primate fetal liver.
Copyright 2004 Humana Press Inc.