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Semin Fetal Neonatal Med. 2009 Jun;14(3):130-5. doi: 10.1016/j.siny.2008.11.002. Epub 2008 Dec 12.

Glucocorticoids and neuro- and behavioural development.

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  • 1Life & Health Sciences Research Institute (ICVS), University of Minho, 4710-057 Braga, Portugal.


Epidemiological evidence links exposure to stress hormones during fetal or early postnatal development with lifetime prevalence of cardiac, metabolic, auto-immune, neurological and psychiatric disorders. This has led to the concept of 'developmental programming through stress'. Importantly, these effects (specifically, hypertension, hyperglycaemia and neurodevelopmental and behavioural abnormalities) can be reproduced by exposure to high glucocorticoid levels, indicating a crucial role of glucocorticoids in their causation. However, there can be important differences in outcome, depending on the exact time of exposure, as well as duration and receptor selectivity of the glucocorticoid applied. The mechanisms underlying programming by stress are still unclear but it appears that these environmental perturbations exploit epigenetic modifications of DNA and/or histones to induce stable modifications of gene expression. Programming of neuro- and behavioural development by glucocorticoids and stress are important determinants of lifetime health and should be a consideration when choosing treatments in obstetric and neonatal medicine.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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