Maternal dexamethasone treatment reduces ovarian follicle number in neonatal rat offspring

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Elevated glucocorticoid levels in the gravid female circulation affect a number of endocrine functions in the fetuses and neonates. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of maternal dexamethasone (Dx) administration during late pregnancy on the ovaries of neonatal offspring. On the 16th day of pregnancy, experimental dams received subcutaneously 1.0 mg Dx/kg b.w., followed by 0.5 mg Dx/kg b.w./day on the 17th and 18th days of gestation. The control gravid females received the same volume of saline vehicle. Left ovaries from 5-day-old female pups were stereologically analyzed. The ovary volumes were estimated using Cavalieri's principle. The number of healthy and atretic primordial and primary follicles was estimated using a fractionator–physical disector method. The number of secondary follicles was determined by exact counts of every fourth section encompassing whole cross-sections of the ovary. The ovary volume was significantly decreased (by 44.4%; P < 0.05) in the group of female pups from Dx-treated mothers comparing to the controls. The numbers of healthy primordial and atretic follicles were 38.8% (P < 0.05) and 50.9% (P < 0.05), respectively, reduced in the ovaries of pups from the Dx-treated mothers, when compared with the control values. There were 53.4% (P < 0.05) fewer healthy primary and 41.8% (P < 0.05) fewer healthy secondary follicles as well. The numbers of atretic primary and secondary follicles were reduced by 60.0% (P < 0.05) and 61.7% (P < 0.05), respectively. It can be concluded that fetal exposure to glucocorticoids decreased the pool of non-growing follicles in the neonatal ovary, whereas the processes of folliculogenesis and atresia remained unaffected.

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