The factors involved in the control of steroid secretion from the ovine placenta and in fetal growth are as yet unclear. We hypothesized that factors derived from the fetal pituitary may play a role in the production and release of placental steroids and in growth of the fetus, and have investigated the effects of fetal hypophysectomy performed between day 70 and day 79 of gestation (term = 147 days) on systemic concentrations of hormones derived from the placenta, and on fetal growth. Maternal peripheral progesterone, placental lactogen and uterine vein progesterone increased significantly from day 90 in all ewes. Peripheral concentrations of prostaglandin E2 and peripheral and uterine vein oestrone sulfate increased significantly in the control group but not in the fetal hypophysectomy group. Uterine vein prostaglandin E2 increased significantly after day 95 in the control group and after day 105 in the fetal hypophysectomy group. Early fetal hypophysectomy caused marked growth retardation. The weights of the brain, kidneys and liver of hypophysectomized fetuses were the same as those of controls suggesting that their growth is not under pituitary control. In contrast, the weights of heart and lungs were reduced in proportion to body weight, suggesting that heart, lung and carcass growth were under pituitary control. Our data indicate that the fetal pituitary influences the control of placental steroid and prostaglandin E2 biosynthesis after day 90 of gestation in sheep, but that output of other hormones such as placental lactogen is independent of pituitary control, and may determine organ-specific growth parameters that are unaffected by removal of the fetal pituitary.
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