Fetal stress begets adult hypertension

9:42am, May 8, 2002

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.

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