Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis dysregulation in obese pregnancy
Author: Stirrat, Laura Ingram
ISNI:       0000 0004 7224 0716
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
Full text unavailable from EThOS. Please try the link below.
Access from Institution:
There has been a global rise in obesity in the last three decades, and at present one in five women are obese at antenatal booking. Maternal obesity is associated with an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, including increased fetal size and prolonged pregnancy. In the longer-term, offspring of obese are at increased risk of premature death from a cardiovascular event in their adulthood. One mechanism that has been linked to these outcomes is fetal exposure to glucocorticoids in utero. During normal pregnancy, the maternal hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis undergoes major changes, resulting in exponentially increasing levels of the major circulating glucocorticoid cortisol, and other HPA axis hormones, such as corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH). Cortisol and CRH are vital for normal fetal growth and length of gestation, but in excess they are associated with fetal growth restriction and preterm labour. In non-pregnant obesity, it is thought that the HPA axis is dysregulated, although evidence is inconclusive. Little is known about the effects of maternal obesity in pregnancy on the HPA axis. The work in this Thesis used clinical studies to test the hypothesis that the HPA axis is dysregulated in obese pregnant women with altered release, clearance and placental metabolism of cortisol. Associations with clinical outcomes related to fetal size and length of gestation were also studied. The HPA axis activity during pregnancy was investigated in a prospective case-control study cohort. Fasting serum cortisol levels were measured at 16, 28 and 36 weeks of gestation (obese n=276, lean n=135). In a subset (obese n=20, lean n=20), corticosteroid binding globulin (CBG), CRH, estrogens and progesterone were measured. Salivary cortisol was measured in samples collected at bedtime, waking and 30 minutes after waking at 16 weeks. Urinary glucocorticoid metabolites were measured at 19 weeks and 36 weeks (obese n=6, lean n=5) and non-pregnant (obese n=7, lean n=7) subjects. All circulating hormone levels rose similarly in obese and lean during pregnancy, but were significantly lower in obese women. The diurnal rhythm of cortisol was maintained. Urinary glucocorticoids increased with gestation in lean, but not in obese, indicating a lesser activation of the HPA axis in obese compared with lean pregnancy. These findings associated with increased birthweight and longer gestation in obese pregnancy, suggesting that decreased HPA axis activity may underlie these obese related adverse pregnancy outcomes. Whether or not lower glucocorticoids in obese pregnancies are maintained at delivery was investigated by measuring active glucocorticoids (cortisol and corticosterone) and their inactive versions (cortisone and 11- dehydrocorticosterone, respectively) from matched maternal and cord plasma samples (n=259, BMI 18 – 55 kg/m2). Active glucocorticoids were significantly higher in maternal than cord blood, and inactive versions were significantly higher in cord than maternal blood. Increased maternal BMI associated with lower maternal cortisol, corticosterone and 11-dehydrocorticosterone. Despite significant correlations between maternal and cord blood glucocorticoid levels, increased maternal BMI did not associate with lower cord blood glucocorticoids. This suggests that conditions at delivery may overcome any potential negative effects of low maternal glucocorticoids on the fetus in the short-term. However, it may not preclude the longer-term effects of fetal exposure to lower glucocorticoid levels during obese pregnancy, and offspring follow-up studies are required. Potential mechanisms leading to altered HPA axis activity in obese pregnancy were explored by studying the pulsatile release and placental metabolism of glucocorticoid hormones. Glucocorticoid pulsatility is thought to be important for transcriptional regulation of glucocorticoid responsive genes, and disruptions to pulsatility have been reported in some disease processes. Glucocorticoids were measured in 10-minute serum sampling between 08.00h-11.00h and 16.00h- 19.00h. Peripheral tissue cortisol was measured from 20-minute sampling of interstitial fluid, over 24-hours, at 16-24 weeks and 30-36 weeks (obese n=7, lean n=8), and non-pregnant controls (obese n=4, lean n=3). Total circulating serum cortisol levels were higher in pregnancy than non-pregnancy in lean and obese, and increased significantly with advancing gestation in lean but not in obese. Pulsatility of cortisol was demonstrated in interstitial fluid in both non-pregnancy and pregnancy. In obese pregnancy, interstitial fluid pulse frequency was lower with advancing gestation. This may be a novel mechanism underlying the observed decreased HPA axis activity in obese pregnancy. Placental cortisol metabolism and transport was studied using an ex vivo placental perfusion model, perfused with a deuterium-labelled cortisol tracer combined with computational modeling. The findings challenge the concept that maternal cortisol diffuses freely across the placenta, but confirmed that 11β- HSD2 acts as major ‘barrier’ to cortisol transfer to the fetus, protecting the fetus from the high maternal circulating cortisol levels. In addition we showed preliminary evidence of local cortisol production within the placenta. The model is able to predict maternal-fetal cortisol transfer and can now be used in future experimental design. In conclusion, in obese pregnancy, lower maternal cortisol and urinary clearance suggested reduced HPA axis activity. Altered glucocorticoid pulsatility may underlie this change. Future studies of placental cortisol metabolism in maternal obesity could be conducted using an ex vivo perfusion model. The lower HPA axis activity in obese pregnancy represents a novel pathway underlying increased fetal growth.
Supervisor: Reynolds, Rebecca ; Norman, Jane Sponsor: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: obesity ; hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis ; cortisol levels ; obese pregnant women