Influence of sex and glucocorticoid exposure on preterm placental pro-oxidant-antioxidant balance
Glucocorticoids (GC) are known to influence fetal ROS production and anti-oxidant defences yet little attention has focused on the potential for effects in the placenta. We hypothesised that antenatal GC exposure alters placental pro-oxidant-anti-oxidant balance sex-specifically, based upon the known relationship between male sex and poor pregnancy outcome. Placentae were collected from 60 women who delivered between 24 and 31 completed weeks gestation and placental oxidative and nitrative stress (protein carbonyl, lipid hydroperoxide, and nitrotyrosine concentration) and anti-oxidant enzyme activity (glutathione peroxidase, thioredoxin reductase, and superoxide dismutase) measured. A pro-oxidant state was observed in placentae of male compared to female infants born within 72 h of antenatal GC exposure, with higher levels of protein carbonyl content (p = 0.04), lipid hydroperoxide (p < 0.01) and nitrotyrosine content (p = 0.02), and lower levels of glutathione peroxidase activity (p = 0.01). A pro-oxidant state continued to be observed in placentae of males compared to females born outside of 72 h, with higher protein carbonyl content (p = 0.04) and lower glutathione peroxidase activity (p = 0.01) than females, however no differences in placental lipid hydroperoxide and nitrotyrosine content were observed. These sex-specific alterations in products of placental oxidative stress could not purely be explained by differences in clinical illness severity (CRIB2 score). Therefore, these sex-specific alterations in placental pro-oxidant-antioxidant balance in response to antenatal betamethasone exposure, independent of illness severity, could contribute to the patho-physiologic processes underlying oxygen radical diseases of the newborn, conditions known to exhibit a male excess.