Background: We tested the hypothesis that the fetal-placental relationship scales allometrically and identified modifying factors of that relationship.
Materials and methods: Among women delivering after 34 weeks but prior to 43 weeks' gestation, 24,601 participants in the Collaborative Perinatal Project (CPP) had complete data for placental gross proportion measures, specifically, placental weight (PW), disk shape, larger and smaller disk diameters and thickness, and umbilical cord length. The allometric metabolic equation was solved for alpha and beta by rewriting PW = alpha(BW)beta as ln(PW) = ln alpha + beta[ln(BW)]. alpha(iota) was then the dependent variable in regressions with p < 0.05 significant.
Results: Mean beta was 0.78 + 0.02 (range 0.66, 0.89), which is consistent with the scaling exponent 0.75 predicted by Kleiber's Law. Gestational age, maternal age, maternal BMI, parity, smoking, socioeconomic status, infant sex, and changes in placental proportions each had independent and significant effects on alpha.
Conclusions: We find an allometric scaling relation between the placental weight and the birthweight in the CPP cohort with an exponent approximately equal to 0.75, as predicted by Kleiber's Law. This implies that: (1) placental weight is a justifiable proxy for fetal metabolic rate when other measures of fetal metabolic rate are not available; and (2) the allometric relationship between placental and birthweight is consistent with the hypothesis that the fetal-placental unit functions as a fractal supply limited system. Furthermore, our data suggest that the maternal and fetal variables we examined have at least part of their effects on the normal balance between placental weight and birth weight via effects on gross placental growth dimensions.