Does growth impairment underlie the adverse effects of dexamethasone on development of noradrenergic systems?
Glucocorticoids are given in preterm labor to prevent respiratory distress but these agents evoke neurobehavioral deficits in association with reduced brain region volumes. To determine whether the neurodevelopmental effects are distinct from growth impairment, we gave developing rats dexamethasone at doses below or within the therapeutic range (0.05, 0.2 or 0.8 mg/kg) at different stages: gestational days (GD) 17-19, postnatal days (PN) 1-3 or PN7-9. In adolescence and adulthood, we assessed the impact on noradrenergic systems in multiple brain regions, comparing the effects to those on somatic growth or on brain region growth. Somatic growth was reduced with exposure in all three stages, with greater sensitivity for the postnatal regimens; brain region growth was impaired to a lesser extent. Norepinephrine content and concentration were reduced depending on the treatment regimen, with a rank order of deficits of PN7-9 > PN1-3 > GD17-19. However, brain growth impairment did not parallel reduced norepinephrine content in magnitude, dose threshold, sex or regional selectivity, or temporal pattern, and even when corrected for reduced brain region weights (norepinephrine per g tissue), the dexamethasone-exposed animals showed subnormal values. Regression analysis showed that somatic growth impairment accounted for an insubstantial amount of the reduction in norepinephrine content, and brain growth impairment accounted for only 12%, whereas specific effects on norepinephrine accounted for most of the effect. The adverse effects of dexamethasone on noradrenergic system development are not simply related to impaired somatic or brain region growth, but rather include specific targeting of neurodifferentiation.
Slotkin, TA; Ko, A; Seidler, FJ
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