Adrenocortical responses to ACTH in neonatal rats: effect of hypoxia from birth on corticosterone, StAR, and PBR


Endocrine and Transplant Research Laboratories, St. Luke’s Medical Center


The adrenocortical response to hypoxia may be a critical component of the adaptation to this common neonatal stress. Little is known about adrenal function in vivo in hypoxic neonates. The purpose of this study was to evaluate adrenocortical responses to ACTH in suckling rat pups exposed to hypoxia from birth to 5-7 days of age compared with normoxic controls. We also evaluated potential cellular controllers of steroidogenic function in situ. In 7-day-old pups at 0800, hypoxia from birth resulted in increased basal (12.2 +/- 1.4 ng/ml; n = 12) and ACTH-stimulated (94.0 +/- 9.4 ng/ml; n = 14) corticosterone levels compared with normoxic controls (basal = 8.3 +/- 0.5 ng/ml; n = 11; stimulated = 51.3 +/- 3.8 ng/ml; n = 8). This augmentation occurred despite no significant difference in plasma ACTH levels in normoxic vs. hypoxic pups before (85 +/- 4 vs. 78 +/- 8 pg/ml) or after (481 +/- 73 vs. 498 +/- 52 pg/ml) porcine ACTH injection (20 microg/kg). This effect was similar in the afternoon at 6 days of age and even greater at 5 days of age at 0800. The aldosterone response to ACTH was not augmented by exposure to hypoxia from birth. Adrenocortical hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1alpha mRNA was undetectable by RT-PCR. Steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein in adrenal subcapsules (zona fasciculata/reticularis) was augmented by exposure to hypoxia; this effect was greatest at 5 days of age. Peripheral-type benzodiazepine receptor (PBR) protein was also increased at 6 and 7 days of age in pups exposed to hypoxia from birth. We conclude that hypoxia from birth results in an augmentation of the corticosterone but not aldosterone response to ACTH. This effect appears to be mediated at least in part by an increase in controllers of mitochondrial cholesterol transport (StAR and PBR) and to occur independently of measurable changes in endogenous plasma ACTH. The augmentation of the corticosterone response to acute increases in ACTH in hypoxic pups is likely to be an important component of the overall physiological adaptation to hypoxia in the neonate.

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