Glucocorticoid effects on rabbit fetal lung maturation in vivo: An ultrastructural morphometric study


Maternal administration of glucocorticoids is known to stimulate fetal lung maturation. In the present study, we used microscopy and stereology to evaluate the morphological effects of maternal glucocorticoid treatment on rabbit fetal lung tissue. Betamethasone was administered to pregnant rabbits on days 25 and 26 of gestation at a dose of 0.2 mg/kg body weight. The animal were sacrificed on day 27 of gestation. Glucocorticoid treatment significantly increased the presumptive airspace in the fetal lung tissue but did not alter the relative proportion of epithelium, connective tissue, or vasculature in the tissue. In addition, glucocorticoid treatment significantly increased the proportion of type II cells in the prealveolar epithelium, increased the rate of phosphatidylcholine synthesis, and increased the content of the major surfactant‐associated protein, SP‐A, in the fetal lung tissue. We could detect no effect of betamethasone on lamellar body crosssectional area, numerical density, or volume density within fetal lung type II cells. Glucocorticoid treatment of the pregnant doe caused a decrease in the volume density of intracellular glycogen and an increase in the volume density of mitochondria in fetal lung type II cells. Betamethasone treatment did not alter the distance between fetal lung epithelial cells and subadjacent connective tissué cells. However, glucocorticoid treatment increased the number of connective tissue foot processes that pierced the epithelial basal lamina. Thus, glucocorticoid treatment of the pregnant doe results in structural changes in the fetal lung tissue, an acceleration of some aspects of type II cell defferentiation, and a concomitant increase in epithelial‐mesenchymal interactions.

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The Anatomical Record