Periconceptional undernutrition alters fetal growth, metabolism and endocrinology in late gestation. The underlying mechanisms remain uncertain, but fetal exposure to excess maternal glucocorticoids has been hypothesized. We investigated the effects of periconceptional undernutrition on maternal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function and placental 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11βHSD2) activity. Ewes received maintenance feed (N, n=20) or decreased feed from -60 to +30 days from mating to achieve 15% weight loss after an initial 2-day fast (UN, n=21). Baseline plasma samples and arginine vasopressin (AVP)-corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) challenges were performed on days-61,-57, -29, -1, +29, 33, and 49 from mating (day 0). Maternal adrenal and placental tissue was collected at 50 days. Baseline plasma levels of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol decreased in the UN group (P < 0.0001). ACTH response to AVP-CRH was greater in UN ewes during undernutrition (P = 0.03) returning to normal levels after refeeding. Cortisol response toAVP-CRH was greater in UN ewes after the initial 2-day fast, but thereafter decreased and was lower in UN ewes from mating until the end of the experiment (P = 0.007). ACTH receptor, StAR and p450c17 mRNA levels were down-regulated in adrenal tissue from UN ewes. Placental 11βHSD2 activity was lower in UN than N ewes at 50 days (P = 0.014). Moderate periconceptional undernutrition results in decreased maternal plasma cortisol concentrations during undernutrition and after refeeding, and adrenal resistance to ACTH for at least 20 days after refeeding. Fetal exposure to excess maternal cortisol is unlikely during the period of undernutrition, but could occur later in gestation if maternal plasma cortisol levels return to normal while placental 11βHSD2 activity remains low.
Journal of Physiology
Department of Health Sciences

Jaquiery, A.L. (A. L.), Oliver, M.H. (M. H.), Bloomfield, F.H. (F. H.), Connor, K, Challis, J.R.G. (J. R.G.), & Harding, J.E. (J. E.). (2006). Fetal exposure to excess glucocorticoid is unlikely to explain the effects of periconceptional undernutrition in sheep. Journal of Physiology, 572(1), 109–118. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2006.105734