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The late-gestation plasma cortisol surge in the sheep fetus is critical for stimulating organ development and parturition. Increased adrenal responsiveness is one of the key reasons for the surge; however, the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. Our recent studies suggest that ACTH-mediated increased expression of ACTH receptor (ACTH-R) and steroid acute regulatory protein (StAR) may play a role in enhancing responsiveness. Hence, we examined effects of ACTH infusion in fetal sheep on mRNA expression of these two mediators of adrenal responsiveness and assessed the functional consequences of this treatment in vitro. Fetuses of approximately 118 and 138 days of gestational age (dGA) were infused with ACTH-(1-24) for 24 h. Controls received saline infusion. Arterial blood was sampled throughout the infusion. Adrenals were isolated and analyzed for ACTH-R and StAR mRNA, or cells were cultured for 48 h. Cells were stimulated with ACTH, and medium was collected for cortisol measurement. Fetal plasma ACTH and cortisol concentrations increased over the infusion period in both groups. ACTH-R mRNA levels were significantly higher in ACTH-infused fetuses in both the 118 and 138 dGA groups. StAR mRNA increased significantly in both the 118 and 138 dGA groups. Adrenal cells from ACTH-infused fetuses were significantly more responsive to ACTH stimulation in terms of cortisol secretion than those from saline-infused controls. These findings demonstrate that increases in circulating ACTH levels promote increased expression of ACTH-R and StAR mRNA and are coupled to heightened adrenal responsiveness.


Luke C Carey, Yixin Su, Nancy K Valego, James C Rose. Infusion of ACTH stimulates expression of adrenal ACTH receptor and steroidogenic acute regulatory protein mRNA in fetal sheep. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism. 2006 Aug;291(2):E214-20

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PMID: 16478774

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