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Jan 26, 2015 02:26 AM EST

Stress During Pregnancy May Affect Fetal Development

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Stress hormones in the mother can affect fetal development, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that increased levels of glucocorticoid stress hormones in pregnant mice caused the mother to eat more but reduced the ability of the placenta to transport glucose to her fetus.

"Together with previous work, the findings show that maternal glucocorticoids regulate fetal nutrition. Higher glucocorticoid hormone levels in the mother (as seen in stressful conditions), can reduce glucose transport across the placenta and lead to a decrease in fetal weight," Dr. Owen Vaughan, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

To test whether high stress levels in pregnant mice had an impact on their offspring, pregnant mice received the natural glucocorticoid corticosterone at different times during pregnancy, either from day 11 to 16 (20 females), from day 14-19 (31 females), or not at all (74 control females).

"Our research showed that under stress, certain genes in the placenta were modified. One of the genes shown to be altered in the placenta by maternal stress hormones was Redd1. This gene is believed to signal availability of other substances, like oxygen, and to interact with intracellular pathways regulating growth and nutrient uptake in other tissues of the body," Vaughan said.

Future studies may prove this molecule is important in the placenta, in linking environmental cues to the nutrition of the fetus.

The findings are detailed in The Journal of Physiology.

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