The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 54: 507 - 523 (2010)

Vol 54, Issue 2-3

Special Issue: Placenta

Gene expression in the placenta: maternal stress and epigenetic responses

Review | Published: 23 October 2009

Ciprian P. Gheorghe, Ravi Goyal, Ashwani Mittal and Lawrence D. Longo*

Center for Perinatal Biology, Departments of Physiology and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, CA, USA


Successful placental development is crucial for optimal growth, development, maturation and survival of the embryo/fetus into adulthood. Numerous epidemiologic and experimental studies have demonstrated the profound influence of intrauterine environment on life, and the diseases to which one is subject as an adult. For the most part, these invidious influences, whether maternal hypoxia, protein or caloric deficiency or excess, and others, represent types of maternal stress. In the present review, we examine certain aspects of gene expression in the placenta as a consequence of maternal stressors. To examine these issues in a controlled manner, and in a species in which the genome has been sequenced, most of these reported studies have been performed in the mouse. Although each individual maternal stress is characterized by up- or down-regulation of specific genes in the placenta, functional analysis reveals some patterns of gene expression common to the several forms of stress. Of critical importance, these genes include those involved in DNA methylation and histone modification, cell cycle regulation, and related global pathways of great relevance to epigenesis and the developmental origins of adult health and disease.


placenta, gene regulation, microarray, DNA methylation, epigenetics

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