Inhibition of neurosteroid synthesis increases asphyxia-induced brain injury in the late gestation fetal sheep

Tamara Yawno, Edwin BingBing Yan, David William Walker, Jonathon J Hirst

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86 Citations (Scopus)


Allopregnanolone (AP) is a potent GABAergic agonist that suppresses CNS activity, seizure threshold, and excitotoxicity in the adult brain. AP is present in the fetal sheep brain and increases rapidly after asphyxial insult due to increased 5alpha-reductase type-2 (5alphaR-2) expression. The aim of this study was to use finasteride to suppress fetal neurosteroid synthesis, and then determine the effect on brain injury, particularly in the hippocampus, of asphyxia induced in utero by brief occlusion of the umbilical cord. Catheters and an inflatable umbilical cord cuff were implanted in fetal sheep at approximately 125 days gestation. Five days later the fetuses received either finasteride (20 mg/kg/h) or vehicle (40 hydroxypropyl-beta-cyclodextrin) for 2 h. The umbilical cord was occluded (UCO) for 5 min at 30 min after starting the infusion. The fetal brain was obtained 24 h later for examination of activated caspase-3 expression as an index of apoptosis, and to measure AP content. Finasteride treatment alone significantly reduced AP content and increased the number of caspase-3 positive cells in the hippocampus, cerebellum, and the subcallosal bundle, indicating that AP modulates the normal rate of apoptosis in the developing brain. UCO in vehicle and finasteride-treated fetuses produced a similar, marked decrease in O(2) saturation (5.8+/-0.6 ), but after finasteride treatment UCO caused a significantly greater increase in the number of caspase-3 positive cells in the hippocampal cornu ammonis 3 (CA3) (57.3+/-1.6 ) compared with the vehicle-treated fetuses. Thus, 5alpha-reduced steroids such as AP may be protective in reducing cell death following acute fetal asphyxia. Perturbation of normal fetal neurosteroid levels in late gestation (e.g. due to preterm birth, or maternal synthetic steroid treatment to induce fetal lung maturation) could adversely affect brain development and increase its vulnerability to injury.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1726 - 1733
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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