Fetal fornix transection and gestation length in sheep

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Experiments in several species indicate that the hippocampus influences hypothalamo–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis function. In fetal sheep, simultaneous ACTH and cortisol rises over the last 30 days of gestation peak at term and are necessary for birth. We hypothesized that if the fetal hippocampal formation is functional in late gestation, loss of hippocampal input to the HPA axis following fetal fornix transection would change gestation length in comparison to controls. At 118–121 days of gestation (dG), stereotaxic technique was used in fetal sheep to sham transect (SHAM; n = 8) or transect (FXTX; n = 6) the dorsal fornix at the level of the hippocampal commissure. No differences were found between SHAM and FXTX fetuses in daily hormone profiles over the last week of gestation or in gestation length (148.0 ± 1.2 vs. 149.0 ± 0.4 dG, respectively). We conclude that the fetal hippocampus is immature in late gestation and we speculate that an immature hippocampus is necessary for the loss of negative feedback control that gives rise to the long term, simultaneous increases in ACTH and cortisol that are indispensable for labor and delivery at term in sheep.

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