Cardiac myocyte proliferation and maturation near term is inhibited by early gestation maternal testosterone exposure

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11 Scopus citations


Polycystic ovary syndrome is a complex and common disorder in women, and those affected experience an increased burden of cardiovascular disease. It is an intergenerational syndrome, as affected women with high androgen levels during pregnancy “program” fetal development, leading to a similar phenotype in their female offspring. The effect of excess maternal testosterone exposure on fetal cardiomyocyte growth and maturation is unknown. Pregnant ewes received biweekly injections of vehicle (control) or 100 mg testosterone propionate between 30 and 59 days of gestation (early T) or between 60 and 90 days of gestation (late T). Fetuses were delivered at ~135 days of gestation, and their hearts were enzymatically dissociated to measure cardiomyocyte growth (dimensional measurements), maturation (pro-portion binucleate), and proliferation (nuclear Ki-67 protein). Early T depressed serum insulin-like growth factor 1 and caused intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR; P < 0.0005). Hearts were smaller with early T (P < 0.001) due to reduced cardiac myocyte maturation (P < 0.0005) and proliferation (P = 0.017). Maturation was also lower in male than female fetuses (P = 0.004) independent of treatment. Late T did not affect cardiac growth. Early excess maternal testosterone exposure depresses circulating insulin-like growth factor 1 near term and causes IUGR in both female and male offspring. These fetuses have small, immature hearts with reduced proliferation, which may reduce cardiac myocyte endowment and predispose to adverse cardiac growth in postnatal life. While excess maternal testosterone exposure leads to polycystic ovary syndrome and cardiovascular disease in female offspring, it may also predispose to complications of IUGR and cardiovascular disease in male offspring. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Using measurements of cardiac myocyte growth and maturation in an ovine model of polycystic ovary syndrome, this study demonstrates that early gestation excess maternal testosterone exposure reduces near-term cardiomyocyte proliferation and maturation in intrauterine growth-restricted female and male fetuses. The effect of testosterone is restricted to exposure during a specific period early in pregnancy, and the effects appear mediated through reduced insulin-like growth factor 1 signaling. Furthermore, male fetuses, regardless of treatment, had fewer mature cardiomyocytes than female fetuses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H1393-H1401
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 29 2018


  • Androgens
  • Cardiac growth and development
  • Intrauterine growth restriction
  • Ovine
  • Sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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