Don't Stress Out

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Science  12 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6044, pp. 804
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6044.804-b

During pregnancy, increases in maternal stress, whether physical or psychological, can affect fetal growth. In a stressful situation, steroid hormones called glucocorticoids often increase, and this elevation is known to affect offspring birth weight and organ development. Glucocorticoids can also alter gene expression and protein transport in the placenta, but how this affects fetal development and whether there are differential affects depending on the sex of the offspring is not as well understood. O'Connell et al. examined this by treating mice with a synthetic glucocorticoid, dexamethasone, mid-gestation. Early responses to glucocorticoid exposure were similar between the sexes; however, at later time points, sex-dependent effects on the placental structure and in gene expression were observed. These differential effects of glucocorticoids on the placenta may explain how maternal responses to environmental and hormonal challenges during pregnancy may contribute to differences among the sexes later in life.

Biol. Reprod. 85, 10.1095/biolreprod.111.093369 (2011).

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