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J Tucci, V Hammond, P V Senior, A Gibson, and F Beck


During pregnancy, a placental calcium pump maintains the fetus in a hypercalcaemic state relative to the mother, a condition which has been thought to facilitate normal development of the fetal skeleton. Based on experiments performed in the sheep, parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP) has been implicated as the hormone responsible for maintaining the placental calcium pump. In the present study on mice in which the PTHrP gene has been ablated by homologous recombination, we have measured both fetal and maternal circulating total and ionised calcium levels, as well as fetal total body calcium, in order to determine whether absence of PTHrP during fetal development has an effect on fetal calcium levels. Our results show that, in fetuses lacking PTHrP, circulating ionised calcium levels are significantly lower than those of heterozygote and wild-type littermates, but circulating total calcium levels show no difference. Total body calcium levels of null mutants are significantly higher than those of normal littermates.

The role of PTHrP in maintaining the integrity of the transplacental calcium pump in the rodent thus remains unclear. It may be that the lower levels of fetal blood ionised calcium in mutant animals are due to disruption of the placental pump, but, if this is the case, compensatory mechanisms have operated to allow the excessive calcium deposition seen in the skeletons of these animals. Alternatively, the increased avidity of the bones for calcium may in itself have produced a lower equilibrium level of available ionised calcium.

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P V Senior, J Tucci, N L Blythe, and F Beck


In this study, the expression of IGF-II and H19 was examined in the liver, skeletal muscle and choroid plexus of the neonatal rat during normal maturation and after the administration of dexamethasone. If the two genes share common regulatory elements as postulated by an enhancer competition system, their patterns of expression should remain similar throughout maturation and after treatment with dexamethasone. In the liver, down-regulation of IGF-II and H19 during maturation and after dexamethasone administration was shown. This is consistent with the hypothesis that IGF-II and H19 are regulated by common enhancers. In the secretory cells of the choroid plexus, where expression of IGF-II is known to be biallelic, IGF-II was expressed in both untreated and dexamethasone-treated animals, regardless of age, whereas H19 expression was not detectable. This is consistent with the postulate that only one gene from each allele can be engaged by the enhancers. In skeletal muscle, H19 continues to be expressed in the adult after IGF-II is switched off suggesting that IGF-II can also be regulated independently of H19.

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J Tucci, A Russell, P V Senior, R Fernley, T Ferraro, and F Beck


Secretion of parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP) by sheep fetal parathyroid glands is reported to be an important factor in the maintenance of a placental calcium pump. The aim of the present study was to determine whether the developing rat parathyroid glands express PTHrP or parathyroid hormone (PTH), or both. Hybridisation histochemistry was used to detect transcription of PTHrP and PTH in serial paraffin sections through the 12·5- and 13·5-day rat embryo parathyroid anlage, as well as in sections through the 17·5-day embryonic and adult parathyroid glands. Results show strong expression of PTH in the 13·5-day embryonic parathyroid anlage, as well as in the parathyroid gland of the 17·5-day embryo and adult. Transcription of the PTHrP gene was not detected.

The more sensitive technique of reverse transcription PCR was then performed. The pharyngeal region of 11·5-, 12·5- and 13·5-day rat embryos was dissected out and, at each stage, RNA was extracted from these tissues, as well as pooled tissues from the rest of the embryo. RNA that had been extracted from adult thyroid/parathyroid tissue was also tested. After reverse transcription, the resulting cDNAs were amplified by PCR (50 cycles) using specific PTH and PTHrP primers. The results show an abundance of PTH mRNA, specific to the pharyngeal region of the 13·5-day embryo, as well as to adult thyroid/parathyroid tissue. PTHrP expression was detected at very low levels in both parathyroid and extraparathyroid tissues. The presence of immunoreactive PTHrP and immunoreactive PTH in the pharyngeal region and rest of the body of 12·5- and 13·5-day rat embryos was assessed by specific RIAs. Whilst immunoreactive PTHrP was not detected in any of the tissues assayed, immunoreactive PTH was detected only in the pharyngeal region of the 13·5-day embryo. This confirms the results obtained from the gene expression studies.

We conclude then that, in the developing rat embryo, PTH rather than PTHrP is more likely to play a role in calcium regulation. This is in contrast with the reported situation in the sheep, and suggests that fundamental species differences in fetal calcium regulation exist in mammals.