Overexpression of the conserved Ca2+-binding proteins calreticulin and calsequestrin impairs cardiac function, leading to premature death. Calreticulin is vital for embryonic development, but also impairs glucocorticoid action. Glucocorticoid overexposure during late fetal life causes intra-uterine growth retardation and programmed hypertension in adulthood. To determine whether intra-uterine growth retardation or programmed hypertension was associated with altered calreticulin or calsequestrin expression, effects of prenatal glucocorticoid overexposure (maternal dexamethasone treatment on days 15—21 of pregnancy) were examined during fetal life and postnatal development until adulthood (24 weeks). Dexamethasone (100 or 200μg/kg of maternal body weight) was administered via osmotic pump. Calreticulin was detected as a 55kDa band and calsequestrin as 55 and 63kDa bands in 21 day fetal hearts. Only the 55kDa calsequestrin band was detected postnatally. Prenatal glucocorticoid overexposure at the higher dose decreased calreticulin protein expression (26%; P<0.05) but increased calsequestrin protein expression, both 55 and 63kDa bands, by 87% (P<0.01) and 78% (P<0.01); only the 55kDa calsequestrin band was increased at the lower dose (66%; P<0.05). Offspring of dams treated at the lower dexamethasone dose were studied further. In control offspring, cardiac calreticulin protein expression declined between 2 and 3 weeks of age, and remained suppressed until adulthood. Cardiac calsequestrin protein expression increased 2-fold between fetal day 21 and postnatal day 1 and continued to increase until adulthood, at which time it was 3.4-fold higher (P<0.001). Prenatal dexamethasone exposure minimally affected postnatal calsequestrin protein expression, but the postnatal decline in calreticulin protein expression was abrogated and calreticulin protein expression in adulthood was 2.2-fold increased (P<0.001) compared with adult controls. In view of the known associations between cardiac calreticulin overexpression and impaired cardiac function, targeted up-regulation of calreticulin may contribute to the increased risk of adult heart disease introduced as a result of prenatal overexposure to glucocorticoids.

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