RATIONALE Chorioamnionitis and antenatal glucocorticoids are common exposures for preterm infants and can affect the fetal brain, contributing to cognitive and motor deficits in preterm infants. The effects of antenatal glucocorticoids on the brain in the setting of chorioamnionitis are unknown. We hypothesized that antenatal glucocorticoids would modulate inflammation in the brain and prevent hippocampal and white matter injury after intra-amniotic lipopolysaccharide (LPS) exposure. METHODS Time-mated ewes received saline (control), an intra-amniotic injection of 10 mg LPS at 106d GA or 113d GA, maternal intra-muscular betamethasone (0.5 mg/kg maternal weight) alone at 113d GA, betamethasone at 106d GA before LPS or betamethasone at 113d GA after LPS. Animals were delivered at 120d GA (term=150d). Brain structure volumes were measured on T2-weighted MRI images. The subcortical white matter (SCWM), periventricular white matter (PVWM) and hippocampus were analyzed for microglia, astrocytes, apoptosis, proliferation, myelin and pre-synaptic vesicles. RESULTS LPS and/or betamethasone exposure at different time-points during gestation did not alter brain structure volumes on MRI. Betamethasone alone did not alter any of the measurements. Intra-amniotic LPS at 106d or 113d GA induced inflammation as indicated by increased microglial and astrocyte recruitment which was paralleled by increased apoptosis and hypomyelination in the SCWM and decreased synaptophysin density in the hippocampus. Betamethasone before the LPS exposure at 113d GA prevented microglial activation and the decrease in synaptophysin. Betamethasone after LPS exposure increased microglial infiltration and apoptosis. CONCLUSION Intra-uterine LPS exposure for 7d or 14d before delivery induced inflammation and injury in the fetal white matter and hippocampus. Antenatal glucocorticoids aggravated the inflammatory changes in the brain caused by pre-existing intra-amniotic inflammation. Antenatal glucocorticoids prior to LPS reduced the effects of intra-uterine inflammation on the brain. The timing of glucocorticoid administration in the setting of chorioamnionitis can alter outcomes for the fetal brain.
Kuypers, E., Jellema, R. K., Ophelders, D. R. M. G., Dudink, J., Nikiforou, M., Wolfs, T. G. A. M., … Kramer, B. W. (2013). Effects of intra-amniotic lipopolysaccharide and maternal betamethasone on brain inflammation in fetal sheep. PLoS ONE, 8(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081644