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The effects of gestation on a-actin levels in vascular smooth muscle aortae were studied in 31 fetal sheep, aged 66–144 days (term = 150 days). Aortae were collected post-mortem.

Aortae, carotid and femoral arteries from two groups of chronically catheterized fetal sheep (110–114 days) were also examined. One group was infused with cortisol (n = 6; hydrocortisone sodium succinate, total dose 16.8 mg in 48 h) and the control group received saline (0.15 mol/L, 0.33 mL/h, n = 7).

Vascular homogenate protein was separated by sodium dodecyl sulphate–polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and western transfer. a-Actin was identified using a monoclonal mouse anti-a actin antibody and standardized against tissue protein and DNA content.

Between 60 and 144 days gestation, there was an exponential increase in the a-actin content of vascular smooth muscle cells from fetal sheep aorta (P < 0.0001). a-Actin concentration (densitometry units (U) relative to DNA 260 nm absorbance (Abs)) was significantly (P < 0.05) higher in the aortae of cortisol-infused (12 601 2499 U/Abs) fetal sheep compared with those that were saline-infused (4514 670 U/Abs). a-Actin (relative to DNA absorbance) of carotid and femoral vessels in cortisol-infused animals (20 659 4812 U/Abs) compared with those that were saline-infused (14 461 2645 U/Abs) was increased, but the difference was not significant.

Therefore, the a-actin concentration of the vascular smooth muscle of the aorta increases throughout gestation. Cortisol treatment is associated with further increases in a-actin concentration in the fetal aorta, indicating that the development of large conduit vessels can be altered by this glucocorticoid.
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Keywords: blood vessels; cortisol; fetal development; sheep; smooth muscle; vasculature; α-actin

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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