Biological features of placental programming

Kent L. Thornburg, Kevin Kolahi, Melinda Pierce, Amy Valent, Rachel Drake, Samantha Louey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The placenta is a key organ in programming the fetus for later disease. This review outlines nine of many structural and physiological features of the placenta which are associated with adult onset chronic disease. 1) Placental efficiency relates the placental mass to the fetal mass. Ratios at the extremes are related to cardiovascular disease risk later in life. 2) Placental shape predicts a large number of disease outcomes in adults but the regulators of placental shape are not known. 3) Non-human primate studies suggest that at about mid-gestation, the placenta becomes less plastic and less able to compensate for pathological stresses. 4) Recent studies suggest that lipids have an important role in regulating placental metabolism and thus the future health of offspring. 5) Placental inflammation affects nutrient transport to the fetus and programs for later disease. 6) Placental insufficiency leads to inadequate fetal growth and elevated risks for later life disease. 7) Maternal height, fat and muscle mass are important in combination with placental size and shape in predicting adult disease. 8) The placenta makes a host of hormones that influence fetal growth and are related to offspring disease. Unfortunately, our knowledge of placental growth and function lags far behind that of other organs. An investment in understanding placental growth and function will yield enormous benefits to human health because it is a key player in the origins of the most expensive and deadly chronic diseases that humans face.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S47-S53
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Birthweight
  • Chronic disease
  • Inflammation
  • Placenta
  • Programming
  • Trophoblast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Developmental Biology


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