Journal Article

Glucocorticoid maturation of mitochondrial respiratory capacity in skeletal muscle before birth


In adults, glucocorticoids act to match the supply and demand for energy during physiological challenges, partly through actions on tissue mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) capacity. However, little is known about the role of the natural prepartum rise in fetal glucocorticoid concentrations in preparing tissues for the increased postnatal energy demands. This study examined the effect of manipulating cortisol concentrations in fetal sheep during late gestation on mitochondrial OXPHOS capacity of two skeletal muscles with different postnatal locomotive functions. Mitochondrial content, biogenesis markers, respiratory rates and expression of proteins and genes involved in the electron transfer system (ETS) and OXPHOS efficiency were measured in the biceps femoris (BF) and superficial digital flexor (SDF) of fetuses either infused with cortisol before the prepartum rise or adrenalectomised to prevent this increment. Cortisol infusion increased mitochondrial content, biogenesis markers, substrate-specific respiration rates and abundance of ETS Complex I and adenine nucleotide translocator (ANT1) in a muscle-specific manner that was more pronounced in the SDF than BF. Adrenalectomy reduced mitochondrial content and expression of PGC1α and ANT1 in both muscles, and ETS Complex IV abundance in the SDF near term. Uncoupling protein gene expression was unaffected by cortisol manipulations in both muscles. Gene expression of the myosin heavy chain isoform, MHCIIx, was increased by cortisol infusion and reduced by adrenalectomy in the BF alone. These findings show that cortisol has a muscle-specific role in prepartum maturation of mitochondrial OXPHOS capacity with important implications for the health of neonates born pre-term or after intrauterine glucocorticoid overexposure.

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Davies KL
Camm EJ
Smith DJ
Vaughan OR
Forhead AJ
Murray AJ
Fowden AL

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Biological and Medical Sciences


Year of publication: 2021
Date of RADAR deposit: 2021-08-10

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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