Blood pressure and heart rate in the ovine fetus: Ontogenic changes and effects of fetal adrenalectomy

Nobuya Unno, Chi H. Wong, Susan L. Jenkins, Richard A. Wentworth, Xiu Ying Ding, Cun Li, Steven S. Robertson, William P. Smotherman, Peter W. Nathanielsz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Ontogenic changes in baseline and 24-h rhythms of fetal arterial blood pressure (FABP) and heart rate (FHR) and their regulation by the fetal adrenal were studied in 18 fetal sheep chronically instrumented at 109-114 days gestation (GA). In the long-term study, FABP and FHR were continuously recorded from 120 days GA to spontaneous term labor (>145 days GA) in five animals. Peak times (PT) and amplitudes (Amp) of cosinor analysis were compared at 120-126, 127-133, and 134-140 days GA. Consistent, significant linear increases in FABP and linear decreases in FHR were observed in all fetuses. Significant 24-h rhythms in FABP and FHR were observed during all the time windows. In the adrenalectomy study, to test the hypothesis that fetal cortisol plays a key role in cardiovascular maturation, fetal adrenals were removed in eight animals (ADX); sham fetal adrenalectomy was performed on five animals (Con). Cortisol (4 μg/min) was infused intravenously in four ADX fetuses from day 7 postsurgery for 7 days (ADX+F). No significant changes in PT and Amp in FABP and FHR were observed. Plasma cortisol levels remained low in con and ADX fetuses (<4.9 ng/ml). Cortisol infusion increased fetal plasma cortisol to 22.3 ± 3.2 ng/ml (mean ± SE) on day 13 in ADX+F fetuses. FABP increased in control and ADX+F but not ADX fetuses; FHR decreased in control and ADX but rose in ADX+F fetuses. These results suggest that, in chronically instrumented fetal sheep at late gestation, 1) increases in FABP and decreases in FHR are maintained consistently from 120 to 140 days GA, with distinct 24-h rhythms, the PT and Amp of which remain unchanged, and 2) the physiological increase in FABP is dependent on the fetal adrenal; bilateral removal of the fetal adrenals does not prevent the ability of cortisol to produce a sustained increase in FABP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H248-H256
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number1 45-1
StatePublished - Jan 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Adrenal
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Circadian rhythm
  • Cortisol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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