Author(s): de Kloet ER, Claessens SE, Kentrop J
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Abstract Prematurely born infants may be at risk, because of inadequate maturation of tissues. If there are signs of preterm birth, it has become common practice therefore to treat either antenatally the mother or postnatally the infant with glucocorticoids to accelerate tissue development, particularly of the lung. However, this life-saving early glucocorticoid treatment was found to increase the risk of adverse outcome in later life. In one animal study, the authors reported a 25\% shorter lifespan of rats treated as newborns with the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone, but so far this finding has not been replicated. After a brief clinical introduction, we discuss studies in rodents designed to examine how perinatal glucocorticoid action affects the developing brain. It appears that the perinatal action of the glucocorticoid depends on the context and the timing as well as the type of administered steroid. The type of steroid is important because the endogenous glucocorticoids cortisol and corticosterone bind to two distinct receptor populations, i.e., mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptors (GR), while synthetic glucocorticoids predominantly bind to the GR. In addition, if given antenatally hydrocortisone is inactivated in the placenta by 11β-HSD type 2, and dexamethasone is not. With respect to timing, the outcome of glucocorticoid effects is different in early vs. late phases of brain development. The context refers to the environmental input that can affect the susceptibility to glucocorticoid action in the newborn rodent brain; early handling of pups and maternal care obliterate effects of post-natal dexamethasone treatment. Context also refers to coping with environmental conditions in later life, for which the individual may have been programed epigenetically by early-life experience. This knowledge of determinants affecting the outcome of perinatal glucocorticoid exposure may have clinical implications for the treatment of prematurely born infants.
This article was published in Front Endocrinol (Lausanne)
and referenced in Journal of Depression and Anxiety