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Low Levels of Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone during Early Pregnancy Are Associated with Precocious Maturation of the Human Fetus

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Elevation in placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCRH) during the last trimester of pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk for preterm delivery. Less is known about the consequences for the human fetus exposed to high levels of pCRH early in pregnancy. pCRH levels were measured in 138 pregnant women at least once at 15, 20 and 25 weeks of gestation. At 25 weeks of gestation, fetal heart rate (FHR) responses to a startling vibroacoustic stimulus (VAS) were recorded as an index of maturity. pCRH levels at 15 weeks of gestation, but at no later point, predicted FHR responses to the VAS. Fetuses exposed to the lowest concentrations of pCRH at 15 weeks of gestation exhibited a distinguishable response to the VAS, whereas fetuses exposed to higher levels of pCRH did not respond. The findings suggest that exposure to low levels of pCRH early in gestation may be optimal and associated with a response pattern indicating greater maturity.

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