Sexually Dimorphic Effects of Maternal Nutrient Reduction on Expression of Genes Regulating Cortisol Metabolism in Fetal Baboon Adipose and Liver Tissues

  1. Kang Sun1,2
  1. 1Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Research, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Texas
  2. 2School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, Shanghai, P. R. China
  1. Corresponding author: Kang Sun, sungang{at}


Maternal nutrient reduction (MNR) during fetal development may predispose offspring to chronic disease later in life. Increased regeneration of active glucocorticoids by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) in metabolic tissues is fundamental to the developmental programming of metabolic syndrome, but underlying mechanisms are unknown. Hexose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase (H6PD) generates NADPH, the cofactor for 11β-HSD1 reductase activity. CCAAT enhancer binding proteins (C/EBPs) and the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) regulate 11β-HSD1 expression. We hypothesize that MNR increases expression of fetal C/EBPs, GR, and H6PD, thereby increasing expression of 11β-HSD1 and reductase activity in fetal liver and adipose tissues. Pregnant MNR baboons ate 70% of what controls ate from 0.16 to 0.9 gestation (term, 184 days). Cortisol levels in maternal and fetal circulations increased in MNR pregnancies at 0.9 gestation. MNR increased expression of 11β-HSD1; H6PD; C/EBPα, -β, -γ; and GR in female but not male perirenal adipose tissue and in male but not female liver at 0.9 gestation. Local cortisol level and its targets PEPCK1 and PPARγ increased correspondingly in adipose and liver tissues. C/EBPα and GR were found to be bound to the 11β-HSD1 promoter. In conclusion, sex- and tissue-specific increases of 11β-HSD1, H6PD, GR, and C/EBPs may contribute to sexual dimorphism in the programming of exaggerated cortisol regeneration in liver and adipose tissues and offsprings’ susceptibility to metabolic syndrome.

  • Received April 30, 2012.
  • Accepted October 18, 2012.

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