Maternal, Placental, and Fetal Responses to Intermittent Heat Exposure During Late Gestation in Mice


Physiological adaptations during heat exposure are critical in pregnancy. Maternal thermoregulation has to accommodate the increased metabolic load of the developing fetus. Here, we assess the consequences of intermittent heat exposure, as occurs in heat waves, for maternal adaptations during pregnancy, and chronic feto-placental outcomes. Following timed mating, C57BL/6J mice were allocated to either standard animal housing temperature conditions (SH) or housing at a temperature within the thermoneutral zone (TNZ). A subset of the TNZ group was exposed to 37 °C for 8 h a day from E15.5 to E17.5 to simulate a heat wave (HW). Maternal weight gain, food intake, rectal temperature, and nesting behaviors were measured across gestation. Fetal and placental tissues were collected at E18.5. With heat exposure, maternal rectal temperature increased while food intake and nest complexity decreased. Maternal daily weight gain initially decreased due to heat exposure, but on the last day of exposure, it was comparable to the other experimental groups. These maternal responses during heat exposure impacted on the fetus, with restrictions in placental and fetal development evident just before birth. Thus, the vascular portion of the placenta, and the relative fetal head size, was smaller. Furthermore, SH and TNZ animals demonstrated distinct differences in food intake and nesting behavior during pregnancy, reinforcing the need for caution in extrapolating from animal models to humans when housing occurs outside of thermoneutral zone conditions. This study highlights the direct effects of temperature conditions on health in pregnancy and provides a foundation for future studies to investigate fetal health consequences that are associated with intermittent heat exposure.

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The authors give many thanks to the staff in the Cell Central and Animal Care Services at the School of Human Sciences, University of Western Australia, for their assistance with this project.


The study was funded by a Raine BrightSpark grant awarded to GP, CW, and SM.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Caitlin S. Wyrwoll.

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The Animal Ethics Committee of the University of Western Australia approved all procedures associated with this study (RA/3/100/1509).

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Olivier, K., Reinders, L.A., Clarke, M.W. et al. Maternal, Placental, and Fetal Responses to Intermittent Heat Exposure During Late Gestation in Mice. Reprod. Sci. (2020).

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  • Pregnancy
  • Heat
  • Heatwave
  • Thermoregulation
  • Thermoneutral
  • Placenta