Fetal heart rate, arterial pressure, and blood volume responses to cortisol infusion

C. E. Wood, C. Y. Cheung, R. A. Brace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to determine whether physiological amounts of cortisol affect the fetal cardiovascular system. Cortisol (4 μg/min) or the vehicle was infused intravenously for 5 h into six chronically catheterized sheep fetuses at 127-143 days gestation (term = 145-150 days). In the cortisol-infused animals, plasma cortisol concentration increased from 2.0 ± 0.6 (SE) to 8.3 ± 0.9 ng/ml. There was a concomitant decrease in fetal heart rate of 38 beats/min (P < 1 x 10-6) and an increase in arterial pressure. Estimated blood volume decreased by 6% in the cortisol-infused fetuses compared with the vehicle-infused animals (P < 1 x 10-4). In addition, plasma norepinephrine and epinephrine concentrations decreased to 70% of control at the end of the 5-h cortisol infusion, whereas plasma renin concentration decreased to 34% of control. The stimultaneous increase in fetal arterial pressure and decrease in estimated blood volume suggest that fetal vascular resistance increased, whereas vascular compliance and/or nonstressed vascular volume decreased. However, this does not appear to be mediated by increases in circulating vasoconstrictor hormone concentrations or increased sympathetic tone. Thus the present study shows that physiological amounts of cortisol have significant effects on the fetal cardiovascular system but the mechanisms are unknown.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22/6
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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