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Maternal Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Disregulation during the Third Trimester Influences Human Fetal Responses

Published Web Location Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Maternal peptides from the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis rise during human pregnancy. The effects of circulating maternal adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and beta-endorphin (BE) on human fetal behavior was determined in 135 women during their 32nd week of gestation. Fetal behavior was measured by assessing heart rate habituation to a series of repeated vibroacoustic stimuli. Individual differences in habituation were determined by computing the number of consecutive responses above the standard deviation during a control period. There was no significant relation between levels of ACTH, BE and the rate of fetal heart rate habituation. However, an index of HPA disregulation (uncoupling of ACTH and BE) was related significantly to fetal behavior. Fetal exposure to high levels of maternal BE relative to ACTH was associated with significantly lower rates of habituation. Results indicate that maternal stress and stress-related peptides influence fetal response patterns. It is possible that this influence persists over the life span.

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