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Reprod Fertil Dev. 1995;7(3):351-63.

Endocrine regulation of fetal growth.

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  • 1Physiological Laboratory, Cambridge, UK.


Hormones have an important role in the control of fetal growth. They act on both tissue accretion and differentiation and enable a precise and orderly pattern of growth to occur during late gestation. In part, their actions on growth may be mediated by other growth factors such as the insulin-like growth factors (IGFs). Insulin stimulates fetal growth by increasing the mitotic drive and nutrient availability for tissue accretion. It has little effect on tissue differentiation. In contrast, the main effects of cortisol in utero are on tissue differentiation and maturation. Cortisol appears to act directly on the cells to alter gene transcription or post-translational processing of the gene products. Cortisol may also initiate the transition from the fetal to the adult modes of growth regulation by inducing the switch from IGF-II to IGF-I gene expression in the fetal liver. Thyroxine affects both tissue accretion and differentiation in the fetus by a combination of metabolic and non-metabolic mechanisms. Pituitary growth hormone, on the other hand, appears to have little part in the control of fetal growth, unlike its role postnatally. Fetal hormones, therefore, promote growth and development in utero by altering both the metabolism and gene expression of the fetal tissues. These hormonal actions ensure that fetal growth rate is commensurate with the nutrient supply and that prepartum maturation occurs in preparation for extrauterine life.

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