The objective of the present investigation was to determine fetal and maternal plasma concentrations of nonglucose carbohydrates and polyols in normal human pregnancies at term. Uncomplicated human pregnancies (n = 50) were studied at > or =37 wk gestation. Blood samples were obtained from umbilical artery, umbilical vein, and maternal peripheral blood at the time of elective cesarean section. Plasma concentrations of inositol, glycerol, erythritol, sorbitol, and mannose were determined by HPLC analysis. Differences between umbilical venous, umbilical arterial, and maternal concentration were tested by the two-tailed t test for paired samples. Correlations between umbilical and maternal concentration and between umbilical venoarterial concentration difference and umbilical arterial concentration were assessed by Pearson's correlation and multiple regression analysis. All newborns were appropriate for gestational age, and oxygenation and acid-base balance were within the normal range for all fetuses studied. For most of the polyols (inositol, sorbitol, and erythritol), the fetal concentration was significantly higher than the maternal concentration. The umbilical venoarterial concentration difference for inositol was -10.5 +/- 3.6 microM, for glycerol was 10 +/- 1.7 microM, for sorbitol was 3.8 +/- 0.5 microM (p < 0.001), and for mannose was 7.6 +/- 0.7 microM. There was a significant correlation between maternal concentration and umbilical venous concentration of mannose (UV(MAN) = 15.38 + 0.69 M(MAN); R(2) = 0.46; p < 0.001). These results indicate that in normal human pregnancies at term, inositol is produced by the fetus, sorbitol is produced by the placenta, and there is a significant umbilical uptake of mannose from the maternal circulation.