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Reprod Biomed Online. 2012 Jul;25(1):68-89. doi: 10.1016/j.rbmo.2012.03.017. Epub 2012 Apr 5.

Placental adaptations to the maternal-fetal environment: implications for fetal growth and developmental programming.

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Metabolic Research Laboratories, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.


The placenta is a transient organ found in eutherian mammals that evolved primarily to provide nutrients for the developing fetus. The placenta exchanges a wide array of nutrients, endocrine signals, cytokines and growth factors with the mother and the fetus, thereby regulating intrauterine development. Recent studies show that the placenta is not just a passive organ mediating maternal-fetal exchange. It can adapt its capacity to supply nutrients in response to intrinsic and extrinsic variations in the maternal-fetal environment. These dynamic adaptations are thought to occur to maximize fetal growth and viability at birth in the prevailing conditions in utero. However, some of these adaptations may also affect the development of individual fetal tissues, with patho-physiological consequences long after birth. Here, this review summarizes current knowledge on the causes, possible mechanisms and consequences of placental adaptive responses, with a focus on the regulation of transporter-mediated processes for nutrients. This review also highlights the emerging roles that imprinted genes and epigenetic mechanisms of gene regulation may play in placental adaptations to the maternal-fetal environment.

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