Sodium dichloroacetate stimulates cardiac mitochondrial metabolism and improves cardiac conduction in the ovine fetus during labor

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2022 Jan 1;322(1):R83-R98. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00185.2021. Epub 2021 Dec 1.


Previous studies in our laboratory have suggested that the increase in stillbirth in pregnancies complicated by chronic maternal stress or hypercortisolemia is associated with cardiac dysfunction in late stages of labor and delivery. Transcriptomics analysis of the overly represented differentially expressed genes in the fetal heart of hypercortisolemic ewes indicated involvement of mitochondrial function. Sodium dichloroacetate (DCA) has been used to improve mitochondrial function in several disease states. We hypothesized that administration of DCA to laboring ewes would improve both cardiac mitochondrial activity and cardiac function in their fetuses. Four groups of ewes and their fetuses were studied: control, cortisol-infused (1 g/kg/day from 115 to term; CORT), DCA-treated (over 24 h), and DCA + CORT-treated; oxytocin was delivered starting 48 h before the DCA treatment. DCA significantly decreased cardiac lactate, alanine, and glucose/glucose-6-phosphate and increased acetylcarnitine/isobutyryl-carnitine. DCA increased mitochondrial activity, increasing oxidative phosphorylation (PCI, PCI + II) per tissue weight or per unit of citrate synthase. DCA also decreased the duration of the QRS, attenuating the prolongation of the QRS observed in CORT fetuses. The effect to reduce QRS duration with DCA treatment correlated with increased glycerophosphocholine and serine and decreased phosphorylcholine after DCA treatment. There were negative correlations of acetylcarnitine/isobutyryl-carnitine to both heart rate (HR) and mean arterial pressure (MAP). These results suggest that improvements in mitochondrial respiration with DCA produced changes in the cardiac lipid metabolism that favor improved conduction in the heart. DCA may therefore be an effective treatment of fetal cardiac metabolic disturbances in labor that can contribute to impairments of fetal cardiac conduction.

Keywords: ECG; cortisol; fetus; labor; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cushing Syndrome / chemically induced
  • Cushing Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Cushing Syndrome / metabolism
  • Cushing Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Dichloroacetic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Fetal Distress / chemically induced
  • Fetal Distress / metabolism
  • Fetal Distress / physiopathology
  • Fetal Distress / prevention & control*
  • Fetal Heart / drug effects*
  • Fetal Heart / metabolism
  • Fetal Heart / physiopathology
  • Heart Rate, Fetal / drug effects*
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Labor, Obstetric
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Metabolome*
  • Mitochondria, Heart / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria, Heart / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Sheep, Domestic


  • Dichloroacetic Acid
  • Hydrocortisone