Neurobehavioral risk is associated with gestational exposure to stress hormones

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The developmental origins of disease or fetal programming model predict that early exposures to threat or adverse conditions have lifelong consequences that result in harmful outcomes for health. The maternal endocrine ‘fight or flight’ system is a source of programming information for the human fetus to detect threats and adjust their developmental trajectory for survival. Fetal exposures to intrauterine conditions including elevated stress hormones increase the risk for a spectrum of health outcomes depending on the timing of exposure, the timetable of organogenesis and the developmental milestones assessed. Recent prospective studies, reviewed here, have documented the neurodevelopmental consequences of fetal exposures to the trajectory of stress hormones over the course of gestation. These studies have shown that fetal exposures to biological markers of adversity have significant and largely negative consequences for fetal, infant and child emotional and cognitive regulation and reduced volume in specific brain structures.

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