Maternal exposure to increased steroid hormones, including estrogens, androgens or glucocorticoids during pregnancy results in chronic conditions in offspring that manifest in adulthood. Little is known about effects of progesterone administration in early pregnancy on fetal development. We hypothesised that maternal early pregnancy progesterone supplementation would increase fetal progesterone, affect progesterone target tissues in the developing fetal reproductive system and be metabolised to other bioactive steroids in the fetus. We investigated the effects of progesterone treatment during early pregnancy on maternal and fetal plasma progesterone concentrations, transcript abundance in the fetal pituitary and testes and circulating steroids, at day 75 gestation, using a clinically realistic ovine model. Endogenous progesterone concentrations were lower in male than female fetuses. Maternal progesterone administration increased male, but not female, fetal progesterone concentrations, also increasing circulating 11-dehydrocorticosterone in male fetuses. Maternal progesterone administration altered fetal pituitary and testicular function in ovine male fetuses. This suggests that there may be fetal sex specific effects of the use of progesterone in early pregnancy, and highlights that progesterone supplementation should be used only when there is clear evidence of efficacy and for as limited time as necessary.
The authors would like to thank Joan Docherty, John Hogg and Marjorie Thomson for their excellent animal husbandry. We thank Panagiotis Filis, Linda Nicol, Forbes Howie and Natalie Homer for their technical expertise in facilitating sample analysis
This work was supported by a studentship and academic scholarship from the Society for Reproduction and Fertility, the Medical Research Council (G0801807, MR/M022556/1, MR/P011535/1) and a small grant from the Barbour Watson Trust.
- development biology
- medical research