Reproduction, Fertility and Development Reproduction, Fertility and Development Society
Vertebrate reproductive science and technology

Suppression of arousal by progesterone in fetal sheep

Kelly J. Crossley, Marcus B. Nicol, Jonathan J. Hirst, David W. Walker and Geoffrey D. Thorburn†

Reproduction, Fertility and Development 9(8) 767 - 774
Published: 1997


The high rate of progesterone synthesis by the placenta in late gestation exposes the ovine fetus to high concentrations of progesterone and its metabolites that may affect activity of the fetal brain. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of inhibiting maternal progesterone synthesis on sleep–wake activity in fetal sheep. Fetal and maternal vascular catheters, a fetal tracheal catheter, and electrodes for recording fetal electrocortical (ECoG), electro-ocular (EOG) and nuchal muscle electromyographic (EMG) activity were implanted. At 128–131 days gestation, progesterone production was inhibited by an injection of trilostane (50 mg), a 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase inhibitor. Vehicle solution or progesterone (3 mg h -1 ) was then infused into the ewe between 6 and 12 h after the trilostane treatment. Maternal progesterone concentrations were significantly reduced from 1–24 h after trilostane treatment (P < 0·05) when followed by vehicle infusion. Fetal breathing movements (FBM), EOG, nuchal muscle EMG, and behavioural arousal increased 12 h after trilostane treatment (P < 0 · 05). In contrast, there was no change in fetal arousal, EOG, EMG or FBM activities when progesterone was infused after the trilostane treatment. These findings show that progesterone can influence fetal behaviour, and indicates that normal progesterone production tonically suppresses arousal, or wakefulness in the fetus.

© CSIRO 1997

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