Steroid synthesis is required for pregnancy maintenance and for parturition, but comparatively little is known about the major metabolic routes that influence circulating concentrations. Dietary intake changes progesterone and estradiol concentrations in pregnant ewes but whether this reflects placental synthesis is unknown. Progesterone metabolism by 5alpha-reduction is a major metabolic route in other species and can influence the onset of parturition. Therefore, studies were conducted to (1) determine placental enzyme activity, progesterone, and estradiol measured by immunoassay in late gestation ewes on low-, moderate-, and high-nutritional planes, (2) to assess the significance of 5alpha-reduction of progesterone in determining progesterone concentrations in late gestation ewes (gestation day 145) given finasteride to inhibit 5alpha-reductase metabolism. In the second experiment, steroid profiles were examined comprehensively in blood and tissues by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry for the first time in this species. Dietary intake altered progesterone and estradiol serum concentrations but without correlated changes in placental 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, 17alpha-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase cytochrome P450 or aromatase activity. 5alpha-reduced pregnane metabolites were identified in ewes at 145 days of gestation, but concentrations were lower than those of progesterone. Finasteride inhibited 5alpha-reduced progesterone metabolism but did not impact serum progesterone concentrations in these ewes. We conclude that (1) diet-induced changes in serum progesterone and estradiol concentrations are not likely a result of altered placental synthesis of sex steroid but most likely by their metabolism, and (2) metabolism by 5α-reduction is not a major determinant of systemic progesterone concentrations in late gestation ewes.
In pregnant sheep, diet affects systemic progesterone and estradiol concentrations but not by altering placental synthesis, and although pregnane metabolism includes 5α-reduction, it is not an important determinant of progesterone concentration.