Multigenerational effects of fetal dexamethasone exposure on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis of first- and second-generation female offspring

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Synthetic glucocorticoid (sGC) administration to women threatening preterm delivery increases neonatal survival. Evidence shows that fetal exposure to glucocorticoid levels higher than appropriate for current maturation programs offspring development. We examined fetal sGC multigenerational effects on F1 and F2 female offspring hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA) function.


At 0.7 gestation, pregnant F0 ewes received 4 dexamethasone injections (2 mg, approximately 60 μg/kg−1 per day−1, 12 hours apart) or saline (control). F1 female offspring were bred to produce F2 female offspring. Postpubertal HPAA function was tested in F1 and F2 ewes.


F1 and F2 ewe lambs showed reduced birthweight and morphometrics. Dexamethasone increased baseline but reduced stimulated HPAA activity in F1 and F2 female offspring.


This is the first demonstration that sGC doses in the clinical range have multigenerational effects on hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal activity in a precocial species, indicating the need for the study of long-term effects of fetal sGC exposure.

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