BREATHING movements in utero are a normal accompaniment of foetal life1–3. Dawes et al.3 reported an instance of reduced foetal breathing in a sheep with spontaneously occurring foetal hypoxaemia. Subsequent observations have shown similar reductions associated with foetal hypoglycaemia, infection, and maternally administered hypoxaemia. In addition they are influenced by hypercapnia, temperature and time of day4. In human pregnancy reduced foetal breathing is associated with maternal hypertension and foetal growth retardation5. Thus breathing movements have been used as an index of foetal health. The concentration of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) in the plasma of foetal sheep increases during hypoxaemia, haemorrhage and catecholamine infusion (refs 6–8 and C. T. J., K. B., J. G. Ratcliffe and J. S. R., unpublished observations) and may therefore reflect foetal condition. At present blood gas values, pH and heart rate are used as indices of foetal health in utero in animals and man. But we have observed a wide variation in plasma ACTH concentration and foetal breathing movements in foetal sheep in utero in circumstances in which blood gas values, arterial pH and heart rate were in the normal range. The present report describes a close correlation between the amount of foetal breathing and the foetal plasma ACTH concentration.
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BODDY, K., JONES, C. & ROBINSON, J. Correlations between plasma ACTH concentrations and breathing movements in foetal sheep. Nature 250, 75–76 (1974) doi:10.1038/250075a0
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