Background Antenatal steroids are standard of care for cases of anticipated preterm labor to improve neonatal outcomes. However, steroids are potent drugs, and their use in pregnancy remains largely unoptimized. Objective The objective of the study was to measure the maternofetal pharmacokinetics of constant, low-dose intravenous betamethasone phosphate infusions and correlate these data with the transcriptional effect exerted by subclinical betamethasone exposures on the ovine fetal lung. Study Design Thirty-two ewes carrying a single fetus had surgery to catheterize fetal and maternal jugular veins at 116 days of gestation (term, 150 days). Animals were recovered for 2 days and then were randomized to receive 2 sequential maternal intravenous infusions of either (n = 4/group) of the following: 1) saline, 0.125, 0.04, or 0.0125 mg/kg betamethasone phosphate over 3 hours; or 2) saline, 0.25, 0.08, or 0.025 mg/kg betamethasone phosphate over 12 hours. Each infusion was separated by 2 days. Fetal lung tissue was collected for analysis using quantitative polymerase chain reaction and an ovine-specific microarray. Plasma betamethasone levels from time-course catheter samples were determined by mass spectrometry. Data were assessed for distribution, variance, and tested by an analysis of variance. Results Betamethasone was detectable (>1 ng/mL) in fetal plasma only in animals randomized to 0.125 mg/kg 3 hour or 0.250 mg/kg 12 hour infusions. Fetal betamethasone half-lives were 1.7–2.8 times greater than maternal values. At maximum concentration, fetal plasma betamethasone levels were approximately 10% of maternal levels. Compared with saline control, all animals, other than those receiving 0.0125 mg/kg 3 hour betamethasone phosphate infusions, had evidence of dose-dependent glucocorticoid transcriptional responses in the fetal lung. Conclusion Constant maternal betamethasone infusions delivering substantially lower fetal and maternal betamethasone maximal concentrations than those achieved with current clinical treatment protocols were associated with dose-dependent changes in glucocorticoid-response markers in the fetal lung. Further studies to determine the minimally efficacious dose of steroids for improving outcomes in preterm infants should be viewed as a priority.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Obstetrics and Gynaecology