Overexposure to stress hormones in the womb can program the potential for adverse health effects in those children and the next generation, but effects vary depending on whether the mother or father transmits them, a new animal study suggests. The results will be presented Saturday at The Endocrine Society's 93rd Annual Meeting in Boston.
"This research sheds light on how babies who are exposed in the womb to excessive levels of stress hormones, known as glucocorticoids, can pass on the health effects to their own children, and how the effects vary between mothers and fathers," said the study's principal investigator, Amanda Drake, MD, PhD, a senior clinical fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Glucocorticoid levels may become raised during pregnancy if, for example, the mother experiences stress or illness or receives glucocorticoid drugs for treatment of illness or premature labor. Excess glucocorticoid exposure of the fetus can reduce birth weight and raise blood pressure later in life in animals and humans, and babies born with low birth weight are at increased risk of diabetes and heart disease in adulthood, Drake said.
"This has led to the concept of fetal programming, suggesting that the environment experienced in the womb can affect development, resulting in an increased risk of later disease. This increased disease risk can be passed to the next generation," Drake said.
Using a rodent model of early life programming, Drake and colleagues studied the effects of glucocorticoid overexposure, with the drug dexamethasone, during the last week of gestation. They studied the effects on the directly exposed offspring and on their offspring. Their prior research showed that the low birth weight induced by prenatal exposure to dexamethasone transmits to a second generation through both male and female rats, according to Drake.
This new research showed that although birth weight is reduced in the offsprin
|Contact: Aaron Lohr|
The Endocrine Society