Responsiveness of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis is decreased during pregnancy. Therefore, the objective of the present study was to determine if responsiveness at the level of individual corticotrophs to corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) or arginine vasopressin (AVP) is decreased during pregnancy in sheep. Anterior pituitaries (APs) were collected from pregnant and nonpregnant ewes. Half of the APs were dispersed, and cells were placed on immobilon and treated with vehicle, CRH (10 nM), or AVP (100 nM) for 2 h. Cells were then fixed and incubated with ACTH or pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) antibodies. The percentage of cells staining positive for immunoreactive (ir) ACTH or POMC, the percentage of cells secreting irACTH or POMC, and the area of irACTH or POMC secretion were measured. RNA was extracted from the other half of the APs to quantify CRH type 1 (CRH-R1) and vasopressin type 1b (V1b) receptor mRNA by ribonuclease protection assay. CRH treatment increased the percentage of corticotrophs with relatively large areas of irACTH and POMC secretion in nonpregnant, but not in pregnant, ewes. AVP treatment significantly increased the percentage of irACTH- and POMC-secreting cells in nonpregnant, but not in pregnant, ewes. V1b receptor mRNA, but not CRH-R1 receptor mRNA, was significantly decreased during pregnancy. These results suggest that corticotroph responsiveness to CRH and AVP is decreased during pregnancy in sheep. Therefore, reduced corticotroph responsiveness may contribute to stress hyporesponsivity during pregnancy.
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