Placental and vascular adaptations to exercise training before and during pregnancy in the rat

Jeffrey S. Gilbert, Christopher T. Banek, Ashley J. Bauer, Anne Gingery, Hans C. Dreyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Although exercise during pregnancy is generally recommended and thought to be beneficial to mother and fetus, the nature of the adaptations to exercise during pregnancy and how they may be beneficial remain poorly understood. Recent studies suggest that exercise may stimulate expression of several cytoprotective and pro-angiogenic molecules such as heat shock proteins (HSP) and vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGF). We hypothesized that exercise training during pregnancy improves angiogenic balance, increases HSP expression, and improves endothelial function. Female rats were given access to an exercise wheel for 6 wk before and during pregnancy. On day 19 of pregnancy tissues were collected and snap frozen for later analysis. Western blots were performed in skeletal muscle and placenta. HSP 27 (3.7 ± 0.36 vs. 2.2 ± 0.38; P < 0.05), HSP 60 (2.2 ± 0.73 vs. 0.49 ± 0.08; P < 0.05), and HSP 90 (0.33 ± 0.09 vs. 0.11 ± 0.02; P < 0.05) were increased in the placentas of exercise-trained rats compared with sedentary controls. In addition, exercise training increased (P < 0.05) plasma free VEGF and augmented (P < 0.05) endothelium-dependent vascular relaxation compared with nonexercise control rats. The present data indicates chronic exercise training stimulates HSP expression in the placenta and that regular exercise training increases circulating VEGF in pregnant but not in nonpregnant rats. Although the present findings suggest that exercise before and during pregnancy may promote the expression of molecules that could attenuate placental and vascular dysfunction in complicated pregnancies, further studies are needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of exercise training as a therapeutic modality in pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R520-R526
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Endothelial function
  • Heat shock proteins
  • Vascular endothelial growth factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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