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Open access

Claire Stenhouse, Charis O Hogg and Cheryl J Ashworth

Integrins regulate adhesion at the foeto-maternal interface by interacting with secreted phosphoprotein 1 (SPP1) and fibronectin (FN). It is hypothesised that impaired foetal growth of ‘runt’ piglets is linked to altered integrin signalling at the foeto-maternal interface. Placental and endometrial samples associated with the lightest and closest to mean litter weight (CTMLW) (gestational day (GD18, 30, 45, 60 and 90), of both sex (GD30, 45, 60 and 90) (n = 5–8 litters/GD), Large White × Landrace conceptuses or foetuses were obtained. The mRNA expression of the integrin subunits (ITG) ITGA2, ITGAV, ITGB1, ITGB3, ITGB5, ITGB6, ITGB8, SPP1 and FN was quantified by qPCR. Temporal changes in mRNA expression were observed, with different profiles in the two tissues. Endometrial ITGB1 (P ≤ 0.05, GD45) and SPP1 (P ≤ 0.05, all GD combined and GD60) expression was decreased in samples supplying the lightest compared to the CTMLW foetuses. Placentas supplying female foetuses had decreased expression of ITGB6 (GD45, P ≤ 0.05) and FN (GD90, P ≤ 0.05) compared to those supplying male foetuses. Endometrial samples supplying females had increased ITGB3 (P ≤ 0.05, GD60) and FN (P ≤ 0.05, GD30) expression and decreased SPP1 (P ≤ 0.05, GD60) expression compared to male foetuses. Correlations between mean within-gilt mRNA expression and percentage prenatal survival, number of live foetuses or conceptuses and percentage male foetuses were observed. This study has highlighted novel and dynamic associations between foetal size, sex and integrin subunit mRNA expression at the porcine foeto-maternal interface. Further studies should be performed to improve the understanding of the mechanisms behind these novel findings.

Open access

Cheryl J Ashworth, Susan O George, Charis O Hogg, Yu-Ting Lai and Paula J Brunton

Abstract

Social stress during pregnancy has profound effects on offspring physiology. This study examined whether an ethologically relevant social stress during late pregnancy in rats alters the reproductive axis and adrenal gland structure in post-pubertal male and female offspring. Prenatally stressed (PNS) pregnant rats (n=9) were exposed to an unfamiliar lactating rat for 10 min/day from day 16 to 20 of pregnancy inclusive, whereas control pregnant rats (n=9) remained in their home cages. Gonads, adrenal glands and blood samples were obtained from one female and one male from each litter at 11 to 12-weeks of age. Anogenital distance was measured. There was no treatment effect on body, adrenal or gonad weight at 11–12 weeks. PNS did not affect the number of primordial, secondary or tertiary ovarian follicles, numbers of corpora lutea or ovarian FSH receptor expression. There was an indication that PNS females had more primary follicles and greater ovarian aromatase expression compared with control females (both P=0.09). PNS males had longer anogenital distances (0.01±0.0 cm/g vs 0.008±0.00 cm/g; P=0.007) and higher plasma FSH concentrations (0.05 ng/mL vs 0.006 ng/mL; s.e.d.=0.023; P=0.043) compared with control males. There were no treatment effects on the number of Sertoli cells or seminiferous tubules, seminiferous tubule area, plasma testosterone concentration or testis expression of aromatase, FSH receptor or androgen receptor. PNS did not affect adrenal size. These data suggest that the developing male reproductive axis is more sensitive to maternal stress and that PNS may enhance aspects of male reproductive development.

Free access

Christopher J McNeil, Angela M Finch, Kenneth R Page, Steve D Clarke, Cheryl J Ashworth and Harry J McArdle

The fetus requires an adequate supply of fatty acids for optimum growth and development. It has been hypothesized that reduced activity of enzymes of fatty acid metabolism could contribute to inadequate fetal growth. In a porcine model of differential fetal growth we examined heart and liver fatty acid synthase, Δ5-desaturase and Δ6-desaturase gene expression and measured hepatic fatty acid profile to assess long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid status. On gestation days 45, 65 and 100 sows were killed and tissues extracted from an average-sized fetus and the smallest fetus from each litter. As early as day 45, considerable hepatic Δ5- and Δ6-desaturase was detected, and this expression significantly increased as gestation progressed. In contrast, cardiac desaturase expression remained stable with time. Fatty acid synthase expression was greatest at day 65 in the liver, but was not expressed in the heart. Overall, the smallest fetus did not exhibit reduced tissue Δ5- or Δ6-desaturase expression or compromised polyunsaturated fatty acid status at any stage. In fact, small fetuses expressed more cardiac Δ5-desaturase than their average-sized siblings, possibly in response to a stress to the heart. It is clear from this study that fatty acid metabolism changes markedly as gestation progresses, and reduced fatty acid supply does not cause inadequate growth in this porcine model of fetal development.

Free access

Christopher J McNeil, Margaret O Nwagwu, Angela M Finch, Kenneth R Page, Alan Thain, Harry J McArdle and Cheryl J Ashworth

Glucocorticoids play a critical role in fetal development, but inappropriate exposure is associated with reduced fetal growth. We investigated cortisol exposure and supply in a porcine model of differential fetal growth. This model compares the smallest fetus of a litter with an average-sized sibling at three stages of gestation. At day 45, small fetuses had reduced plasma cortisol (16.8 ± 3.4 ng/ml) relative to average fetuses (34.4 ± 3.4 ng/ml, P < 0.001). At day 65 levels had reduced in small and average fetuses to similar concentrations (5.7 ± 1.0 vs 4.8 ± 0.5 ng/ml, P = 0.128). By day 100, elevated levels were found in small fetuses (10.7 ± 1.5 vs 7.6 ± 0.7 ng/ml, P < 0.001). Maternal plasma cortisol was unchanged over gestation (day 45, 56.7 ± 21.6 ng/ml; day 65, 57.8 ± 14.4 ng/ml; day 100, 55.7 ± 6.5 ng/ml). We examined the cause of altered cortisol by investigating the fetal hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis through the measurement of adrenocorticotropic hormone and assessing exposure to maternal cortisol by quantifying placental 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-isoform 2 (11β HSD-2) gene expression. These data suggest that altered cortisol supply was of fetal origin. We examined organ glucocorticoid (GC) metabolism by the measurement of GC receptor (GR) and 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-isoform 1 (11β HSD-1) gene expression. We found that fetal organs have different temporal patterns of 11β HSD-1 and GR expression, with the liver particularly sensitive to cortisol in late gestation. This study examines GC exposure in naturally occurring differential growth and simultaneously explores tissue GC sensitivity and handling, at three key stages of gestation.

Free access

Angela M Finch, Li G Yang, Margaret O Nwagwu, Kenneth R Page, Harry J McArdle and Cheryl J Ashworth

Low birth weight is a major factor in neonatal morbidity and mortality in humans and domestic species and is a predictor of physiological disorders in adulthood. This study utilised the naturally occurring variation in pig fetal size within a uterus to test the hypothesis that placental amino acid transport capability is associated with fetal growth. Leucine uptake by trophoblast vesicles prepared from placentas supplying an average-sized fetus and the smallest fetus in the uterus was assessed. On days 45 and 65 of gestation, uptake of leucine by the porcine placenta was predominantly sodium independent and was inhibited by the non-metabolised leucine analogue 2-amino-2-norbornane-carboxylic acid, indicating that uptake occurs via system L. By day 100 the uptake of leucine by placentas supplying average-sized fetuses had changed from being predominantly sodium independent to involving both sodium-dependent (system B0) and -independent (system L) pathways. This change was not seen in placentas supplying the smallest fetus, which continued to display predominantly sodium-independent uptake. In conclusion, these data show gestational- and fetal size-dependent changes in the transport of leucine across the porcine placenta.

Free access

Cheryl J Ashworth, Charis O Hogg, Cindy W F Hoeks, Ramona D Donald, W Colin Duncan, Alistair B Lawrence and Kenny M D Rutherford

This study assessed the effect of pre-natal social stress and post-natal pain on the reproductive development of young (approximately day 40) pigs. Male pigs carried by sows that were stressed by mixing with unfamiliar older sows for two 1-week periods during mid-pregnancy had lower plasma testosterone (0.54 vs 0.86 ng/ml, s.e.d.=0.11; P=0.014) and oestradiol (E2; 22.9 vs 38.7 pg/ml, s.e.d.=7.80; P=0.021) concentrations compared with males carried by unstressed control sows. Although there was no effect of pre-natal stress on female E2 concentrations, female pigs carried by stressed sows had fewer primordial ovarian follicles (log −4.32/μm2 vs −4.00/μm2, s.e.d.=0.136; P=0.027). Tail amputation on day 3 after birth reduced E2 concentrations in female (4.78 vs 6.84 pg/ml, s.e.d.=0.86; P=0.03) and in male (25.6 vs 34.9 pg/ml, s.e.d.=3.56; P=0.021) pigs and reduced both testis weight (0.09% of body weight vs 0.10% of body weight, s.e.d.=0.003; P=0.01) and the percentage of proliferating Leydig cells (1.97 vs 2.12, s.e.d.=0.114; P=0.036) compared with sham-amputated littermate controls. There was a significant (P=0.036) interaction between the effects of pre-natal stress and post-natal pain on testicular expression of the steroidogenic enzyme 17α-hydroxylase, such that amputation increased expression in pigs born to control sows, but reduced expression in animals born to stressed sows. This study shows that stressful procedures associated with routine animal husbandry can disrupt the developing reproductive axis.