Antenatal corticosteroids are often administered to women at risk of preterm birth to accelerate fetal lung development; however, there is evidence that this treatment may adversely affect placental function in some fetuses. Our group has recently demonstrated that wave reflections in the umbilical artery (UA), measured using high-frequency ultrasound, are sensitive to placental vascular abnormalities. In the present study, we used this approach to investigate the effect of maternal administration of betamethasone, a clinically relevant corticosteroid, on the fetoplacental vasculature of the mouse. Fetuses were assessed at embryonic day (E)15.5 and E17.5 in C57BL6/J mice. At both gestational ages, the UA diameter, UA blood flow, and the wave reflection coefficient were significantly elevated in the betamethasone-treated mice compared to vehicle-treated controls. These observations support the interpretation that placental vascular resistance dropped with betamethasone treatment to an extent that could not be explained by vasodilation of the UA alone. Consistent with clinical studies, the effect of betamethasone on UA end-diastolic velocity was heterogeneous. Our results suggest that UA wave reflections are more sensitive to acute changes in placental vascular resistance compared with the UA pulsatility index, and this technique may have clinical application to identify a favorable placental vascular response to fetal therapies such as antenatal corticosteroids, where the fetal heart rate is likely to vary.
Antenatal betamethasone administration in healthy pregnant mice resulted in decreased placental vascular resistance, altering wave reflection parameters that are sensitive to these acute changes in vascular tone.