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Endocr Rev. 2006 Apr;27(2):141-69. Epub 2006 Jan 24.

Endocrine regulation of human fetal growth: the role of the mother, placenta, and fetus.

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Mothers and Babies Research Centre, and Department of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Hunter Medical Research Institute, University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.


The environment in which the fetus develops is critical for its survival and long-term health. The regulation of normal human fetal growth involves many multidirectional interactions between the mother, placenta, and fetus. The mother supplies nutrients and oxygen to the fetus via the placenta. The fetus influences the provision of maternal nutrients via the placental production of hormones that regulate maternal metabolism. The placenta is the site of exchange between mother and fetus and regulates fetal growth via the production and metabolism of growth-regulating hormones such as IGFs and glucocorticoids. Adequate trophoblast invasion in early pregnancy and increased uteroplacental blood flow ensure sufficient growth of the uterus, placenta, and fetus. The placenta may respond to fetal endocrine signals to increase transport of maternal nutrients by growth of the placenta, by activation of transport systems, and by production of placental hormones to influence maternal physiology and even behavior. There are consequences of poor fetal growth both in the short term and long term, in the form of increased mortality and morbidity. Endocrine regulation of fetal growth involves interactions between the mother, placenta, and fetus, and these effects may program long-term physiology.

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