The effects of antenatal glucocorticoid exposure on fetal and neonatal skin maturation

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The use of antenatal glucocorticoids in women with preterm labor has dramatically improved outcomes for premature infants. The most commonly used antenatal glucocorticoids are betamethasone and dexamethasone. Glucocorticoids accelerate fetal lung growth by several mechanisms, including the maturation of type II pneumocytes enabling surfactant production. Furthermore, the lipids in the lung share similarity with those in the skin. Therefore, antenatal administration of glucocorticoids may have effects on the structure and function of the developing epidermal barrier in fetuses and neonates.


We performed a systematic review to characterize these effects, identifying 11 studies (six animal and five human studies).


Five out of the six animal studies used a rodent model for investigating the effects of antenatally administered glucocorticoids, while the other used an ovine model. Antenatally administered glucocorticoids accelerated skin maturation in animal studies, but studies of human fetuses found conflicting results. None of the reviewed studies compared the effects of different types of glucocorticoids.


More human studies are needed to fully understand the effects of antenatal steroids. However, as the antenatal use of glucocorticoids in preterm pregnancies has become part of standard clinical practice, it would be unethical to carry out a large randomized controlled trial. We may have to rely on animal models to improve our understanding of the effects of antenatal glucocorticoid exposure on the fetal and neonatal skin maturation.

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