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Journal of Pregnancy
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 681306, 9 pages
Review Article

Adrenocortical and Adipose Responses to High-Altitude-Induced, Long-Term Hypoxia in the Ovine Fetus

1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK 73104, USA
2Center for Perinatal Biology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, CA 92350, USA

Received 7 February 2012; Accepted 2 March 2012

Academic Editor: Timothy Regnault

Copyright © 2012 Dean A. Myers and Charles A. Ducsay. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


By late gestation, the maturing hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis aids the fetus in responding to stress. Hypoxia represents a significant threat to the fetus accompanying situations such as preeclampsia, smoking, high altitude, and preterm labor. We developed a model of high-altitude (3,820 m), long-term hypoxia (LTH) in pregnant sheep. We describe the impact of LTH on the fetal HPA axis at the level of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN), anterior pituitary corticotrope, and adrenal cortex. At the PVN and anterior pituitary, the responses to LTH are consistent with hypoxia being a potent activator of the HPA axis and potentially maladaptive, while the adrenocortical response to LTH appears to be primarily adaptive. We discuss mechanisms involved in the delicate balance between these seemingly opposing responses that preserve the normal ontogenic rise in fetal plasma cortisol essential for organ maturation and in this species, birth. Further, we examine the response to, and ramifications of, an acute secondary stressor in the LTH fetus. We provide an integrative model on the potential role of adipose in modulating these responses to LTH. Integration of these adaptive responses to LTH plays a key role in promoting normal fetal growth and development under conditions of a chronic stress.