On the Origins of Disease

Placental Function/Dysfunction Contributes to the Origins of Disease

There is now an impressive body of evidence suggesting that the in utero environment is important for regulating a baby’s risk of developing a range of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases later in life [1,2,3].  We do not understand the mechanisms by which such complications to life-long post-natal health arise.  Our recent publication leads [4] us to believe that the placenta has an important role in dictating fetal growth and survival by virtue of the fact that it controls the transit of nutrients as well the release of various growth and endocrine factors from maternal into fetal circulation.  Understanding the mechanisms and elucidating the signals responsible for setting the baby’s disease “thermostat” is central to developing appropriate lifestyle and pharmaceutical therapies for early and cost-effective disease management strategies.

Our current research projects focuses on how obesity during pregnancy affects the development of blood vessels in the placenta.  We speculate that these changes may affect the function of the placenta, leading to altered fetal programming.


Figure: Pathways that may alter placental function.



  1. Barker DJ (1998) In utero programming of chronic disease. Clin Sci (Lond) 95: 115-128.
  2. Rowlands I, Graves N, de Jersey S, McIntyre HD, Callaway L (2010) Obesity in pregnancy: outcomes and economics. Semin Fetal Neonatal Med 15: 94-99.
  3. Shankar K, Harrell A, Liu X, Gilchrist JM, Ronis MJ, et al. (2008) Maternal obesity at conception programs obesity in the offspring. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 294: R528-538.
  4. Hayes EK, Lechowicz A, Petrik J, Strozhuk Y, Paez-Parent S, et al. (2012) Adverse fetal and neonatal outcomes associated with a life-long high fat diet: Role of altered development of the placental vasculature. PLoS One 7: e33370.