Developmental origins theory from prematurity to adult disease

J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. Mar-Apr 2008;37(2):158-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2008.00216.x.


Developmental Origins Theory has received little coverage in the nursing literature, even though it has received much attention in other sciences. The theory proposes that prenatal stress provokes adaptive changes in endocrine and metabolic processes that become permanently programmed and impact later adult health. This paper reviews the theory and describes the primary neuroendocrine mechanism of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function. Supporting research evidence in preterm infant and adult samples is presented. Through knowledge of the theory and the long-term sequelae for preterm infants, nurses will have a different theoretical perspective and growing evidence to consider in their care for pregnant women and infants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disease Susceptibility*
  • Fetal Development
  • Human Development
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / embryology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Models, Biological
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / embryology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*


  • Hydrocortisone