Maternal corticosterone exposure in the mouse has sex-specific effects on placental growth and mRNA expression
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Maternal exposure to increased synthetic glucocorticoids (GC) during pregnancy is known to disturb fetal development and increase the risk of long-term disease. Maternal exposure to elevated levels of natural GC is likely to be common yet is relatively understudied. The placenta plays an important role in regulating fetal exposure to maternal GC but is itself vulnerable to maternal insults. This study uses a mouse model of maternal corticosterone (Cort) exposure to investigate its effects on the developing placenta. Mice were treated with Cort (33 μg/kg·h) for 60 h starting at embryonic d 12.5 (E12.5) before collection of placentas at E14.5 and E17.5. Although Cort exposure did not affect fetal size, placentas of male fetuses were larger at E17.5 in association with changes in placental Igf2. This increase in size was associated with an increase in placental thickness and an increase in placental junctional zone volume. Placentas from female fetuses were of normal size and had no changes in growth factor mRNA levels. The expression of the protective enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 was increased at E14.5 but was decreased in males at E17.5. In contrast, the expression of Nr3c1 (which encodes the GC receptor) was increased during the Cort exposure and remained elevated at E17.5 in the placentas of male fetuses. Our study has shown that maternal Cort exposure infers a sex-specific alteration to normal placental growth and growth factor expression, thus further adding to our understanding of the mechanisms of male dominance of programmed disease.