During pregnancy, the placenta, an organ of fetal origin, is essential for fetal development and growth. The placenta anchors the fetus, produces bioactive factors that temporally adapt maternal metabolism to pregnancy, and performs nutrient transport to the fetus. We are intrigued how these essential functions, e.g. placentation, metabolic adaptions and transport, are regulated by maternal and fetal factors.
Pregnancy is a special metabolic state induced by bioactive factors, including hormones, lipids and cytokines. This metabolic state is characterized by insulin and leptin resistance and by an altered lipid profile to promote nutrient transport to the fetus. This fine tuning of maternal metabolism may, however, derail and thus, exceed normal physiology and cause hyperglycaemia, hyperlipidemia and/or a pro-inflammatory environment.
Metabolic programming is the adaptation to nutritional insults during early development which may permanently alter physiology or metabolism of the offspring later in life, even if the stimuli are not present any more. Epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation contribute to this programming.