1) Hepatocyte size
Through growth, the cell size of a hepatocyte gradually increases from the fetuses (19F; 69.8 ± 2.7 µm2, 21F; 145.0 ± 13.2 µm2) to the neonates (1N; 164.1 ± µm2, 3N; 162.9 ± 5.2 µm2, 5N; 231.0 ± 10.2 µm2), to adult rats (359.1 ± 36.0 µm2) (Fig. 1A, B). Prenatal DEX administration significantly increased the cell size in the 19F group (DEX: 1.0 mg/kg; 105.7 ± 4.95 µm2, 2.0 mg/kg; 106.4 ± 3.64 µm2) (Fig. 1C). Largen mRNA and mTOR levels were not affected in 19F and 21F, the process of growth, or by prenatal DEX administration (Fig. S1).
2) Ki-67, cyclin B, and CDK1 mRNA levels
The mRNA expressions of proliferation and cell cycle markers Ki-67, cyclin B, and cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (CDK1) mRNA levels gradually decreased from 19F to adult rats during growth (Fig. 2A, C, E).
The cyclin B mRNA levels was significantly decrease in 19 groups with DEX 1.0 mg/kg administration. However, Ki-67 and CDK1 mRNA levels were not significantly changed. (Untreated group vs. DEX 1mg: Ki-67, 1.0 ± 0.2 vs. 0.53 ± 0.1, P = 0.075; cyclin B, 1.0 ± 0.07 vs. 0.55 ± 0.09, P = 0.014; CDK1, 1.0 ± 0.07 vs. 0.74 ± 0.11, P = 0.17). Cyclin B mRNA levels decreased in 21F with administration of DEX 1.0 mg/kg (0.56-fold) compared with that of the untreated group. And CDK1 mRNA levels decreased in 21F with administration of DEX 1.0 mg/kg (0.43-fold) and 2.0 mg/kg (0.42-fold) compared with that of the untreated group.
3) Thy-1 and Dlk1 expressions
High levels of Thy-1 (Fig. 3A) and Dlk1 (Fig. 3E) mRNA expression were observed in 19F and the levels gradually decreased during growth.
Thy-1 mRNA levels tended to decrease in 21F with administration of DEX 1.0 mg/kg (0.43-fold) and 2.0 mg/kg (0.42-fold) compared with that of the untreated group; however, Dlk1 mRNA levels in the liver were unchanged after administration of prenatal DEX (Fig. 3B, F).
Thy-1 protein positive cells also decreased in 21F with administration of DEX 2.0 mg/kg (28.7 ± 2.6%) compared with the untreated group (42.3 ± 1.4%) (Fig. 3C, 3D).
4) Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and albumin mRNA and protein levels
In untreated groups, AFP mRNA levels gradually decreased from 19F to adult rats (Fig. 4A). Although AFP levels mRNA were increased in 19F with DEX 2.0 mg/kg administration, those were unchanged in the 21F with administration of DEX (Fig. 4B).
In contrast, albumin mRNA levels in the liver of 19F were low, and the levels gradually increased during growth (Fig. 4C, E, F).
Albumin mRNA (5.79-fold) and protein levels increased in the 19F with administration of DEX 2.0 mg/kg compared with the untreated group (Fig. 4D, E, G).
G6Pase and TAT mRNA levels in livers of 8W rats were higher than those of 19F rats; however, prenatal DEX administration did not affect 19F and 21F (Fig.S2).
5) HGF mRNA levels and protein levels
HGF levels increased two-fold in the 1N group compared with the 19F group (Fig. 5A).
Administration of 1.0 mg / kg DEX in the 19F group increased 1.6-fold, and administration of 2.0 mg / kg DEX in the 21F group increased 2.9-fold compared with that of respective untreated groups (Fig. 5B).
In immunohistochemical staining, HGF protein levels also showed a significant increase in the 19F with DEX administration (1.0 mg/kg, 34.4 ± 1.5% and 2.0 mg/kg, 25.4 ± 1.9%) compared with the untreated group (15.5 ± 3.1%). However, HGF protein levels were unchanged in the 21F groups by DEX administration (Fig. 5C, D).
6) HNF4α mRNA and protein levels.
HNF4α is involved in maturation of hepatocytes. HNF4α mRNA and protein levels in adult rats were higher than those in 19F rats (Fig. 6A, C).
Prenatal DEX administration significantly increased HNF4α mRNA levels both in the 19F (DEX 1.0 mg/kg, 1.6-fold: 2.0 mg/kg, 3.7-fold) and 21F (DEX 1.0 mg/kg, 3.2-fold: 2.0 mg/kg, 2.9-fold) groups (Fig. 6B).
Furthermore, HNF4α protein levels also significantly increased in the 19F (DEX 2.0 mg/kg, 51.7 ± 6.2 pg/µg) and 21F (DEX 1.0 mg/kg, 65.6 ± 2.8 pg/µg: DEX 2.0 mg/kg, 74.4 ± 12.7 pg/µg) groups by DEX administration compared with the untreated group (19F, 18.2 ± 3.2 pg/µg: 21F, 34.9 ± 2.7 pg/µg) (Fig. 6D).
In immunohistochemical staining, HNF4α protein levels in 19F by DEX (1.0 mg/kg: 48.4 ± 2.1%, 2.0 mg/kg: 42.8 ± 1.7%) significantly increased compared with the untreated group (34.9 ± 2.7%). Also, administration of DEX significantly increased HNF4α protein levels in 21F (1.0 mg/kg: 60.8 ± 1.6%, 2.0 mg/kg: 65.1 ± 2.2%) compared with the untreated group (43.3 ± 3.1%) (Fig. 6E, F).
7) Inter-treatment and age interacted
The obtained all data was compared using a two-way ANOVA variance test to detect any differences between groups, considering in the age, DEX treatment, and both factors.
The effect of age or DEX treatment was significant difference in the fetal hepatocyte size by two-way ANOVA. However, there was not significant difference between the hepatocyte size and both of the age and DEX (Table 2).
Significant difference between mRNA levels of Ki-67, Dlk1, TAT, and G6Pase and age was observed. However, there was no significant difference between those mRNA levels both of age and DEX treatment. The mRNA levels of cyclin B, CDK1, AFP, albumin, HGF, and HNF4α showed significant differences between age or DEX treatment. There were not a significant differences between the respective gene expressions and both factors of the age and DEX treatment. In, Thy1, mTOR and Largen mRNA levels, there was no significant difference in the effects of age and DEX respectively. (Table 3).
The protein levels of albumin, HGF, and HNF4α had differences between the age and DEX treatment. Under the influence of both factors of age and DEX treatment, was greater than the one age or DEX treatment (Table 4).
These results indicate that effects of the age and DEX treatment on gene expressions and protein production are independent.