To elucidate how reduced levels of OGT might be transmitting signals through the placenta to a fetus, Bale and Howerton bred mice that partially or fully lacked OGT in the placenta. They then compared these transgenic mice to animals that had been subjected to mild stressors during early gestation, such as predator odor, unfamiliar objects or unusual noises, during the first week of their pregnancies.
The researchers performed a genome-wide search for genes that were affected by the altered levels of OGT and were also affected by exposure to early prenatal stress using a specific activational histone mark and found a broad swath of common gene expression patterns.
They chose to focus on one particular differentially regulated gene called Hsd17b3, which encodes an enzyme that converts androstenedione, a steroid hormone, to testosterone. The researchers found this gene to be particularly interesting in part because neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia have strong gender biases, where they either predominantly affect males or present earlier in males.
Placentas associated with male mice pups born to stressed mothers had reduced levels of the enzyme Hsd17b3, and, as a result, had higher levels of androstenedione and lower levels of testosterone than normal mice.
"This could mean that, with early prenatal stress, males have less masculinization," Bale said. "This is important because autism tends to be thought of as the brain in a hypermasculinized state, and schizophrenia is thought of as a hypomasculinized state. It makes sense that there is something about this process of testosterone synthesis that is being disrupted."
Furthermore, the mice born to mothers with disrupted OGT looked like the offspring of stressed mothers in other ways. Although they were born at a normal weight, their growth slowed at weaning. Their body weight as adults was 10-20 percent lower t
|Contact: Katherine Unger Baillie|
University of Pennsylvania