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Placenta. 2016 Dec;48 Suppl 1:S66-S71. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2015.11.013. Epub 2015 Dec 2.

Effects of prenatal maternal stress on serotonin and fetal development.

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INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier and BioMed Research Center, Laval, QC, Canada.
Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada.
INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier and BioMed Research Center, Laval, QC, Canada. Electronic address:


Fetuses are exposed to many environmental perturbations that can influence their development. These factors can be easily identifiable such as drugs, chronic diseases or prenatal maternal stress. Recently, it has been demonstrated that the serotonin synthetized by the placenta was crucial for fetal brain development. Moreover, many studies show the involvement of serotonin system alteration in psychiatric disease during childhood and adulthood. This review summarizes existing studies showing that prenatal maternal stress, which induces alteration of serotonin systems (placenta and fetal brain) during a critical window of early development, could lead to alteration of fetal development and increase risks of psychiatric diseases later in life. This phenomenon, termed fetal programming, could be moderated by the sex of the fetus. This review highlights the need to better understand the modification of the maternal, placental and fetal serotonin systems induced by prenatal maternal stress in order to find early biomarkers of psychiatric disorders.


Brain development; Fetal programming; Human; Placenta; Pregnancy; Serotonin receptors; Serotonin transporter; Sex difference; Stress

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