From New Orleans, La., at Experimental Biology 2002
In early pregnancy, several days of intense, unremitting mental stress in a mother–such as might occur with the death of a loved one or loss of a job–may reprogram a baby's development in ways that foster high blood pressure in adulthood. That conclusion, from Australian studies with sheep, supplies a physiologic basis for the link between fetal stress and adult hypertension that has been suggested by several studies of human populations.
E. Marelyn Wintour-Coghlan and her colleagues at the University of Melbourne continuously administered cortisol–a natural stress hormone–to pregnant sheep for 2 days during their 5-month pregnancies. The researchers induced blood concentrations of cortisol that are typical in highly stressed animals. In an upcoming FASEB Journal, Wintour-Coghlan's team reports that cortisol can cross the placenta from mother to fetus.