Betamethasone phosphate reduces the efficacy of antenatal steroid therapy and is associated with lower birthweights when administered to pregnant sheep in combination with betamethasone acetate

Tsukasa Takahashi, Erin L. Fee, Yuki Takahashi, Masatoshi Saito, Nobuo Yaegashi, Haruo Usuda, Lucy Furfaro, Sean Carter, Augusto F. Schmidt, John P. Newnham, Alan H. Jobe, Matthew W. Kemp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Antenatal corticosteroid therapy is a standard of care for women at imminent risk of preterm labor. However, the optimal (maximum benefit and minimal risk of side effects) antenatal corticosteroid dosing strategy remains unclear. Although conveying overall benefit when given to the right patient at the right time, antenatal corticosteroid treatment efficacy is highly variable and is not risk-free. Building on earlier findings, we hypothesized that when administered in combination with slow-release betamethasone acetate, betamethasone phosphate and the high maternal-fetal betamethasone concentrations it generates are redundant for fetal lung maturation. Objective: Using an established sheep model of prematurity and postnatal ventilation of the preterm lamb, we aimed to compare the pharmacodynamic effects of low-dosage treatment with betamethasone acetate only against a standard dosage of betamethasone phosphate and betamethasone acetate as recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for women at risk of imminent preterm delivery between 24 0/7 and 35 6/7 weeks’ gestation. Study Design: Ewes carrying a single fetus at 122±1 days’ gestation (term=150 days) were randomized to receive either (1) maternal intramuscular injections of sterile saline (the saline negative control group, n=12), (2) 2 maternal intramuscular injections of 0.25 mg/kg betamethasone phosphate+betamethasone acetate administered at 24-hour dosing intervals (the betamethasone phosphate+betamethasone acetate group, n=12); or (3) 2 maternal intramuscular injections of 0.125 mg/kg betamethasone acetate administered at 24-hour dosing intervals (the betamethasone acetate group, n=11). The fetuses were surgically delivered 48 hours after treatment initiation and ventilated for 30 minutes to determine functional lung maturation. The fetuses were euthanized after ventilation, and the lungs were collected for analysis using quantitative polymerase chain reaction and Western blot assays. Fetal plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone levels were measured in the cord blood samples taken at delivery. Results: Preterm lambs were defined as either antenatal corticosteroid treatment responders or nonresponders using an arbitrary cutoff, being a PaCO2 level at 30 minutes of ventilation being more extreme than 2 standard deviations from the mean value of the normally distributed saline control group values. Compared with the animals in the saline control group, the animals in the antenatal corticosteroid treatment groups showed significantly improved lung physiological responses (blood gas and ventilation data) and had a biochemical signature (messenger RNA and surfactant protein assays) consistent with functional maturation. However, the betamethasone acetate group had a significantly higher treatment response rate than the betamethasone phosphate+betamethasone acetate group. These physiological results were strongly correlated to the amount of surfactant protein A. Birthweight was lower in the betamethasone phosphate+betamethasone acetate group and the fetal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis was suppressed to a greater extent in the betamethasone phosphate+betamethasone acetate group. Conclusion: Low-dosage antenatal corticosteroid therapy solely employing betamethasone acetate was sufficient for fetal lung maturation. The elevated maternal-fetal betamethasone concentrations associated with the coadministration of betamethasone phosphate did not in addition improve lung maturation but were associated with greater fetal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis suppression, a lower antenatal corticosteroid treatment response rate, and lower birthweight—outcomes not desirable in a clinical setting. These data warranted a clinical investigation of sustained low-dosage antenatal corticosteroid treatments that avoid high maternal-fetal betamethasone exposures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)564.e1-564.e14
JournalAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Apr


  • antenatal corticosteroids
  • betamethasone acetate
  • betamethasone phosphate
  • glucocorticoid
  • glucocorticoid receptor
  • hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
  • lamb
  • lung maturation
  • preterm birth
  • sheep
  • surfactant protein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Betamethasone phosphate reduces the efficacy of antenatal steroid therapy and is associated with lower birthweights when administered to pregnant sheep in combination with betamethasone acetate'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this