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Role of testosterone in mediating prenatel ethanol effects on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity in male rats Lan, Ni

Abstract

Prenatal ethanol (E) exposure has marked effects on development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and -gonadal (HPG) axes. E rats show HPA hyperresponsiveness to stressors and altered reproductive function in adulthood. Importantly, prenatal ethanol differentially alters stress responsiveness in adult males and females, raising the possibility that gonadal hormones play a role in mediating ethanol effects on HPA function. To address this possibility, two studies were conducted to test the hypothesis that the differential alterations in HPA activity observed in E compared to control males are mediated, at least in part, by ethanol-induced changes in HPG effects on HPA regulation. The first study compared the effects of gonadectomy (GDX) on HPA and HPG activity in adult male offspring from prenatal E, pair-fed (PF) and ad libitum-fed control (C) dams. There were no differences among groups in basal testosterone levels under intact conditions. However, E males showed increased adrenocorticotropin but blunted testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH) responses to restraint stress compared to PF and/or C rats, and no stress-induced elevation in arginine vasopressin (AVP) mRNA levels. GDX eliminated these differences among groups. The second study explored dose-related effects of testosterone on HPA regulation. Testosterone had less of an inhibitory effect on stress-induced CORT and LH increases in E than in PF and C males. Furthermore, testosterone had a reduced effect on central corticotropin-releasing hormone pathways, but an increased effect on central AVP pathways in E compared to PF and/or C males. Importantly, reduced androgen receptor (AR) mRNA levels, possibly reflecting downregulation of AR in key brain areas, may counteract the increased inhibitory AVP signals upstream from the paraventricular nucleus, and thus contribute to the HPA hyperresponsiveness seen in E males. Together these findings suggest that central regulation of both the HPA and HPG axes are altered by prenatal ethanol exposure. The capacity of testosterone to regulate HPA activity is altered in E males, with some effects mediated by the nutritional effects of ethanol. These changes would impair the ability to maintain homeostasis in E animals and have implications for the development of secondary disabilities in children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

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