Journal Article

Metabolic consequences of glucocorticoid exposure before birth


Glucocorticoids have an important role in development of the metabolic phenotype in utero. They act as environmental and maturational signals in adapting feto-placental metabolism to maximize the chances of survival both before and at birth. They influence placental nutrient handling and fetal metabolic processes to support fetal growth, fuel storage and energy production with respect to nutrient availability. More specifically, they regulate the transport, utilization and production of a range of nutrients by the feto-placental tissues that enables greater metabolic flexibility in utero while minimizing any further drain on maternal resources during periods of stress. Near term, the natural rise in fetal glucocorticoid concentrations also stimulates key metabolic adaptations that prepare tissues for the new energy demanding functions after birth. Glucocorticoids, therefore, have a central role in the metabolic communication between the mother, placenta and fetus that optimizes offspring metabolic phenotype for survival to reproductive age. This review discusses the effects of maternal and fetal glucocorticoids on the supply and utilization of nutrients by the feto-placental tissues with particular emphasis on studies using quantitative methods to assess metabolism in rodents and sheep in vivo during late pregnancy. It considers the routes of glucocorticoid overexposure in utero, including experimental administration of synthetic glucocorticoids, and the mechanisms by which these hormones control feto-placental metabolism at the molecular, cellular and systems levels. It also briefly examines the consequences of intrauterine glucocorticoid overexposure for postnatal metabolic health and the generational inheritance of metabolic phenotype.

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Fowden, Abigail L.
Vaughan, Owen R.
Murray, Andrew J.
Forhead, Alison J.

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Biological and Medical Sciences


Year of publication: 2022
Date of RADAR deposit: 2022-06-29

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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