We measured deoxycorticosterone (DOC) and progesterone (P) in plasma of 47 women pregnant with a dead fetus and sequentially throughout gestation in 35 women pregnant with a live fetus. When P levels in plasma were low, the plasma levels of DOC in women pregnant with a dead fetus varied but usually were similar to those in women pregnant with a live fetus. However, when P levels were high, the levels of DOC in some women pregnant with a dead fetus were considerably lower than those in women pregnant with a live fetus. To test whether this finding was due to loss of transfer of DOC from fetus to mother or else loss of extraadrenal steroid 21-hydroxylase activity in the mother after death of the fetus, we conducted several studies. The levels of P and DOC in plasma of one woman remained constant from 30 min after fetal death until delivery occurred 13 h later. Estrogen treatment of four women pregnant with a dead fetus brought about an increase in plasma levels of DOC in three of the women. In one woman the ratio of plasma DOC to P was 0.015, a value similar to that found before fetal death, but was 0.003 after fetal death but before estrogen treatment. In two women pregnant with a dead fetus the transfer constants of conversion of plasma P to DOC were 0.011 and 0.005 before, and 0.024 and 0.013, respectively, during estrogen treatment. In one woman pregnant with a deformed fetus with adrenal agenesis, the metabolic clearance rates of DOC before and during estrogen treatment were similar, whereas the plasma production rates of DOC were 2.75 before and 4.31 mg/24 h during estrogen treatment. We suggest that (a) the DOC in plasma of near-term pregnant women arises in part by extraadrenal 21-hydroxylation of plasma P and (b) estrogen stimulates steroid 21-hydroxylase activity in extraadrenal tissues.
Paul C. MacDonald, Susan Cutrer, Sue C. MacDonald, M. Linette Casey, C. Richard Parker Jr.