The interplay between the fetus and mother may play a key role in the regulation of primate pregnancy and parturition. This study was designed to test the hypothesis that fetectomy alters maternal pituitary-adrenal function. Between 117 and 122 days of gestation (term = 167 days), six rhesus macaques underwent surgery for catheter implantation. At surgery the fetuses were removed while the membranes and placenta were left in situ. Six additional intact catheterized pregnant animals served as controls. Animals were maintained under a 12L:12D cycle with lights-on from 0700 to 1900 h. Beginning at least 1 wk after surgery, maternal arterial blood samples were collected at 3-h intervals for 24 h for hormone and catecholamine analysis. This sampling protocol was repeated at weekly intervals until cesarean delivery at 151–157 days of gestation. Following fetectomy, plasma ACTH, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), and cortisol levels were significantly lower (36%, 35%, and 44%, respectively) compared with control animals (P ;lt 0.05). Despite a significant reduction in overall levels, the rhythm in maternal plasma cortisol was maintained following fetectomy. Plasma dopamine and norepinephrine were also depressed (P ;lt 0.05), whereas epinephrine remained unaffected. Our data clearly demonstrate the role of the fetus in the regulation of the maternal pituitary-adrenal axis during gestation. This interaction plays a significant role in the regulation of maternal endocrine function that may influence the initiation of labor.
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