Fetal programming of sexual development and reproductive function

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2014 Jan 25;382(1):538-549. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2013.09.008. Epub 2013 Sep 14.


The recent growth of interest in developmental programming of physiological systems has generally focused on the cardiovascular system (especially hypertension) and predisposition to metabolic dysfunction (mainly obesity and diabetes). However, it is now clear that the full range of altered offspring phenotypes includes impaired reproductive function. In rats, sheep and nonhuman primates, reproductive capacity is altered by challenges experienced during critical periods of development. This review will examine available experimental evidence across commonly studied experimental species for developmental programming of female and male reproductive function throughout an individual's life-course. It is necessary to consider events that occur during fetal development, early neonatal life and prior to and during puberty, during active reproductive life and aging as reproductive performance declines.

Keywords: 11β-HSD2; 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2; ACTH; AMH; AR; DES; DHT; ER; FSH; Fetal; GR; Glucocorticoids; GnRH; HPA; IUGR; LH; Maternal obesity; Maternal undernutrition; Neonatal; P450 side chain cleavage; P450scc; PR; Sex steroids; StAR; adrenocorticotropic hormone; androgen receptor; antimullerian hormone; diethylstilbestrol; dihydrotestosterone; estrogen receptor; follicle-stimulating hormone; glucocorticoid receptor; gonadotropin-releasing hormone; hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal; intrauterine growth restriction; luteinizing hormone; progesterone receptor; steroid acute regulatory protein.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology*


  • Glucocorticoids