Contractile activity of the uterus prior to labor alters the temporal organization of spontaneous motor activity in the fetal sheep
Robertson, S.S.; Johnson, S.L.; Bacher, L.F.; Wood, J.R.; Wong, C.H.; Robinson, S.R.; Smotherman, W.P.; Nathanielsz, P.W.
Developmental Psychobiology 29(8): 667-683
Contractile activity of the uterus before the onset of labor (uterine contractures) has been described in a number of species and provides a powerful source of repeated stimulation for the fetus throughout much of gestation. To understand how fetal behavior responds to this dynamic aspect of the intrauterine environment, we investigated the effects of uterine contractures on the temporal organization of spontaneous motor activity in the fetal sheep during the last fifth of gestation. Eleven fetuses were instrumented on 113-116 days of gestation (dGA). Electromyogram (EMG) activity was recorded from flexor and extensor muscles in the fetal forelimbs and hindlimbs, and from the uterus. Pooled limb EMG activity from 2300 hr to 0700 hr on 118, 125, 132, and 139 dGA before, during, and after uterine contractures was spectral analyzed to detect and quantify the cyclic organization in fetal motor activity. There was strong evidence of cyclic organization in fetal motor activity (CM) at each gestational age, similar to what has been described in the fetal rat and human. There was no evidence of developmental changes in the baseline spectral measures of CM. The most prominent feature of the response of CM to uterine contractures was a transient decrease in irregularity at 118-132 dGA. The strength of CM increased during contractures at 125 and 132 dGA, and a slight acceleration of CM during contractures was detected at 118 and 139 dGA. The results demonstrate that the stimulation associated with contractures influences an important source of complexity in early behavioral organization. The results are consistent with speculation by others that uterine contractures might induce transient cerebral hypoxemia in the fetus, and suggest that conditions established in the first few minutes of sustained uterine activity constitute the effective perturbation of CM.