Synthetic glucocorticoids are administered to pregnant women in premature labour to accelerate fetal lung maturation at a time when fetal cerebrovascular and endocrine systems are maturing. Exposure to glucocorticoids at 0.8-0.9 of gestation increases peripheral and cerebrovascular resistance (CVR) in fetal sheep. We examined whether the increase of CVR and its adverse effect on cerebral blood flow (CBF) depend on the current level of maturation of the pituitary-adrenal axis and the cerebrovascular system. Using fluorescent microspheres, regional CBF was measured in 11 brain regions before and 24 h and 48 h after the start of 3.3 μg kg-1 h-1 betamethasone (n = 8) or vehicle (n = 7) infusions to fetal sheep at 0.73 of gestation. Hypercapnic challenges were performed before and 24 h after the onset of betamethasone exposure to examine betamethasone effects on cerebrovascular reactivity. Betamethasone exposure decreased CBF by approximately 40% in all brain regions after 24 h of infusion (P < 0.05). The decline in CBF was mediated by a CVR increase of 111 ± 16% in the cerebral cortex and 129 ± 29% in subcortical regions (P < 0.05). Hypercapnic cerebral vasodilatation and associated increase in CBF were blunted (P < 0.05). Fetal CBF recovered after 48 h of betamethasone administration. There were no differences in glucocorticoid induced CBF and CVR changes compared with our previous findings at 0.87 of gestation. We conclude that the cerebrovascular effects of antenatal glucocorticoids are independent of cerebrovascular maturation and preparturient increase in activity of the fetal pituitary-adrenal axis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas