Maternal sildenafil impairs the cardiovascular adaptations to chronic hypoxaemia in fetal sheep

Ishmael M. Inocencio, Graeme R. Polglase, Ilias Nitsos, Suzanne L. Miller, Beth J. Allison

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Key points: Fetal growth restriction induces a haemodynamic response that aims to maintain blood flow to vital organs such as the brain, in the face of chronic hypoxaemia Maternal sildenafil treatment impairs the hypoxaemia-driven haemodynamic response and potentially compromises fetal development. Abstract: Inadequate substrate delivery to a fetus results in hypoxaemia and fetal growth restriction (FGR). In response, fetal cardiovascular adaptations redirect cardiac output to essential organs to maintain oxygen delivery and sustain development. However, FGR infants remain at risk for cardiovascular and neurological sequelae. Sildenafil citrate (SC) has been examined as a clinical therapy for FGR, but also crosses the placenta and may exert direct effects on the fetus. We investigated the effects of maternal SC administration on maternal and fetal cardiovascular physiology in growth-restricted fetal sheep. Fetal sheep (0.7 gestation) underwent sterile surgery to induce growth restriction by single umbilical artery ligation (SUAL) or sham surgery (control, AG). Fetal catheters and flow probes were implanted to measure carotid and femoral arterial blood flows. Ewes containing SUAL fetuses were randomized to receive either maternal administration of saline or SC (36 mg i.v. per day) beginning 4 days after surgery, and continuing for 20 days. Physiological recordings were obtained throughout the study. Antenatal SC treatment reduced body weight by 32% and oxygenation by 18% in SUAL compared to AG. SC did not alter maternal or fetal heart rate or blood pressure. Femoral blood flow and peripheral oxygen delivery were increased by 49% and 30% respectively in SUALSC compared to SUAL, indicating impaired cardiovascular adaptation to chronic hypoxaemia. Antenatal SC directly impairs the fetal haemodynamic response to chronic hypoxaemia. Consideration of the consequences upon the fetus should be paramount when administering interventions to the mother during pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4405-4419
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • antenatal therapy
  • cardiovascular physiology
  • fetal growth restriction
  • sildenafil citrate

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