The objective of this study was to determine whether the ability of the human placenta to transfer glucose and fatty acids is related to normal fetal growth. The intrinsic nutrient transport capacity of the placenta was measured under standardized conditions during in vitro perfusion of 30 human term placentas and related to birth weight (range 2640-4640g), birth weight centile (8th-99th), ponderal index (2.43-3.69), placental weight (418-1030g) and placental:fetal weight (0.14-0.31). There was no statistically significant change in the rate of nutrient transfer per placenta or per kg fetal weight, with birth weight, birth weight centile, ponderal index, placental weight and placental:fetal weight. There was a weak but significant relationship (P=0.020, r(2)=9 per cent) between the ratio of glucose to fatty acid transport and birth weight centile, largely due to the high ratio found in the lowest birth weight quartile where the babies are thinnest. This study provides no evidence that placental nutrient transport capacity limits fetal growth across a wide range of birth weights in normal pregnancies. It is proposed that the fetus itself may regulate placental nutrient transport in vivo via the fetal cardiac output and the rate of fetal nutrient utilization.
Copyright 2002 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.