, Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 559-573

The physiological roles of placental corticotropin releasing hormone in pregnancy and childbirth

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Abstract

In response to stress, the hypothalamus releases cortiticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) that travels to the anterior pituitary, where it stimulates the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH travels to the adrenal cortex, where it stimulates the release of cortisol and other steroids that liberate energy stores to cope with the stress. During pregnancy, the placenta synthesises CRH and releases it into the bloodstream at increasing levels to reach concentrations 1,000 to 10, 000 times of that found in the non-pregnant individual. Urocortins, which are CRH analogues are also secreted by the placenta. Desensitisation of the maternal pituitary to CRH and resetting after birth may be a factor in post-partum depression. Recently, CRH has been found to modulate glucose transporter (GLUT) proteins in placental tissue, and therefore there may be a link between CRH levels and foetal growth. Evidence suggests CRH is involved in the timing of birth by modulating signalling systems that control the contractile properties of the myometrium. In the placenta, cortisol stimulates CRH synthesis via activation of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), a component in a cellular messenger system that may also be triggered by stressors such as hypoxia and infection, indicating that intrauterine stress could bring forward childbirth and cause low birth weight infants. Such infants could suffer health issues into their adult life as a result of foetal programming. Future treatment of these problems with CRH antagonists is an exciting possibility.