Sexually dimorphic effects of maternal asthma during pregnancy on placental glucocorticoid metabolism and fetal growth

Cell Tissue Res. 2005 Oct;322(1):63-71. doi: 10.1007/s00441-005-1117-5. Epub 2005 Nov 3.


Human pregnancy is associated with sexually dimorphic differences in mortality and morbidity of the fetus with the male fetus experiencing the poorest outcome following complications such as pre-eclampsia, pre-term delivery and infection. The physiological mechanisms that confer these differences have not been well characterised in the human. Work conducted on the effect of maternal asthma during pregnancy, combining data collected from the mother, placenta and fetus has found some significant sex-related mechanistic differences associated with fetal growth in both normal pregnancies and pregnancies complicated by asthma. Specifically, sexually dimorphic differences have been found in placental glucocorticoid metabolism in male and female fetuses of normal pregnancies. In response to the presence of maternal asthma, only the female fetus alters placental glucocorticoid metabolism resulting in decreased growth. The male fetus does not alter placental function or growth in response to maternal asthma. As a result of the alterations in glucocorticoid metabolism in the female, downstream changes occur in pathways regulated by glucocorticoids. These data suggest that the female fetus adjusts placental function and reduces growth to compensate for maternal disease. However, the male fetus continues to grow in response to maternal asthma with no changes in placental function. This response by the male fetus may partially contribute to the increased risk of morbidity and mortality in this sex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 11-beta-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase Type 2 / metabolism
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development*
  • Fetus / anatomy & histology
  • Fetus / physiology
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Male
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Receptors, Steroid / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • 11-beta-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase Type 2