ACTH-producing cells of 21-day-old rat fetuses after maternal dexamethasone exposure
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Adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) is essential for developmental maturation of numerous organ systems during the fetal period and for adaptation to environmental challenges. Immunocytochemical and stereological methods were used in the present study to examine the effects of dexamethasone (Dx) administration during pregnancy on fetal rat pituitary ACTH-producing cells. Doses of 0.5, 0.5 and 1.0 mg Dx/kg body weight/day were given to the dams on 3 consecutive days starting on day 16 of gestation. Morphometric analysis of the ACTH-producing cells of fetuses at 21 days of gestation revealed significant inhibition by 24% and 27%, respectively, of cell volume and cell number after maternal Dx administration, whereas the volume of cell nuclei and volume density of ACTH-stained cells were insignificantly decreased. Immunocytochemical analysis showed reduced numbers, sizes and immunopositivity of ACTH cells of 21-day-old fetuses from Dx-treated dams as compared with the control group. Maternal Dx treatment in the period of intense differentiation of the hypothalamo-hypophyseal-adrenal system had an inhibitory effect on fetal function and proliferative activity of ACTH-producing cells at 21 days of gestation. Thus, inhibition of activity of fetal ACTH-producing cells may lead to adrenal suppression, modified activity of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis and reduced body weight possibly causing lasting functional abnormalities. (C) 2003 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.