Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is an important fetal developmental problem resulting from 2 broad causes: maternal undernutrition and/or decreased fetal nutrient delivery to the fetus via placental insufficiency. IUGR is often accompanied by up-regulation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA). Sheep studies show fetal HPAA autonomy in late gestation. We hypothesized that IUGR, resulting from poor fetal nutrient delivery, up-regulates the fetal baboon HPAA in late gestation, driven by hypothalamo-pituitary glucocorticoid receptor (GR) insensitivity and decreased fetal leptin in peripheral plasma. Maternal baboons were fed as ad libitum controls or nutrient restricted to produce IUGR (fed 70% of the control diet) from 0.16 to 0.9 gestation. Peripheral ACTH, cortisol, and leptin were measured by immunoassays. CRH, arginine vasopressin (AVP), GR, leptin receptor (ObRb), and pro-opiomelanocortin peptide expression were determined immunohistochemically. IUGR fetal peripheral cortisol and ACTH, but not leptin, were increased (P < .05). IUGR increased CRH peptide expression, but not AVP, in the fetal hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and median eminence (P < .05). PVN ObRb peptide expression, but not GR, was decreased (P < .05) with IUGR. ObRb and pro-opiomelanocortin were robustly expressed in the anterior pituitary gland, but ∼1% of cells showed colocalization. We conclude that (1) CRH, not AVP, is the major releasing hormone driving ACTH and cortisol secretion during primate IUGR, (2) fetal HPAA activation was aided by GR insensitivity and decreased ObRb expression in the PVN, and (3) the anterior pituitary is not a site for ObRb effects on the HPAA.
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