Placental glucocorticoid receptor and 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-2 recruitment indicates impact of prenatal adversity upon postnatal development in mice

Stress. 2018 Nov;21(6):474-483. doi: 10.1080/10253890.2018.1460660. Epub 2018 Apr 12.


Prenatal stress may increase concentrations of maternal glucocorticoids, which restrict fetal growth, with variable impact upon postnatal development. Among key regulators of stress hormone effects are the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-2 (11βHSD2), the enzyme that inactivates glucocorticoid. This study utilized mice selectively bred for social dominance (Dom) or submissiveness (Sub), respectively exhibiting resilience or sensitivity to stress, to test whether stress-induced alterations in placental GR and 11βHSD2 protein expression may mediate divergent effects of prenatal adversity upon postnatal development. Pregnant Dom and Sub dams underwent prenatal restraint stress (PRS) for 45 min on gestational days (GD) 15-17. PRS induced a similar spike in serum corticosterone concentrations of dams from each strain on GD15 (p < .001, n = 8), and impaired fetal growth (p < .01, n = 5 litters), although Dom placentae were larger than Sub placentae (p < .01). Among placentae from Dom dams, PRS elevated protein contents of both GR (p < .05, n = 5 litters) and 11βHSD2 (p < .01) on GD19. In contrast, GR contents were reduced among placentae from PRS-exposed Sub mice (p < .01), without changes in 11βHSD2 content. Correspondingly, Dom PRS pup growth recovered by PND14, yet Sub PRS pups remained underweight into adolescence (p < .0001, n = 40 pups). Thus, prenatal stress more strongly increased placental GR and 11βHSD2 levels among Dom mice than in Subs. Increased GR may improve placental function and up-regulate 11βHSD2 expression, protecting fetuses from effects of prenatal stress upon postnatal development. Placental recruitment of GR and 11βHSD2 are potential markers of stress-induced developmental disorders, in accordance with maternal resilience or sensitivity to stress.

Keywords: 11β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-2 (11βHSD2); corticosterone; glucocorticoid receptor (GR); placenta; postnatal development; prenatal restraint stress (PRS).