Obstetrics: Original Research

Nucleated Red Blood Cells as a Marker of Acute and Chronic Fetal Hypoxia in a Rat Model

Victoria K. Minior, Brian Levine, Asaf Ferber, Seth Guller, and Michael Y. Divon


Objective: To examine the relationship between duration of fetal hypoxia, nucleated red blood cell (NRBC) count, and fetal growth. Methods: Pregnant rats were exposed to a severe hypoxia (9.5%–10% O2) for varying time intervals (2, 6, 12, 24, 48, and 120 hours; n=4 for each time interval) immediately prior to delivery at term. Normoxic controls were exposed to room air (21% O2) and matched for all other study variables (n=4 rats for each time interval). Pups were delivered via hysterotomy while maintaining exposure gas concentrations. Blood gas analysis and NRBC counts were performed, and fetal body and liver weights were recorded. Student’s t test and simple regression were used for statistical analysis. Results: As the duration of hypoxia increased, fetal weight, liver weight, blood bicarbonate, and base excess levels decreased significantly; concomitantly, NRBC counts increased. This increase in NRBCs became statistically significant after 24 hours of exposure. After 48 hours of hypoxia there was a 2.5-fold rise in NRBC count, and after 120 hours of hypoxia there was a 4.5-fold rise in NRBC count over control levels. After 12 or more hours of hypoxia, fetal body weights were significantly reduced; 120 hours of hypoxia resulted in a 35% reduction in fetal body weight, a 34% reduction in fetal liver weight, and 356% increase in NRBC count. Conclusion: In a pregnant rat model, chronic maternal hypoxia (≥24 hours) results in a significant increase in fetal NRBC counts as well as reduced fetal body weight and organ growth.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2017;8(2):e0025