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Substantial data demonstrate that the early-life environment, including in utero, plays a key role in later life disease. In particular, maternal stress during pregnancy has been linked to adverse behavioural and emotional outcomes in children. Data from human cohort studies and experimental animal models suggest that modulation of the developing epigenome in the foetus by maternal stress may contribute to the foetal programming of disease. Here, we summarise insights gained from recent studies that may advance our understanding of the role of the placenta in mediating the association between maternal mood disorders and offspring outcomes. First, the placenta provides a record of exposures during pregnancy, as indicated by changes in the placental trancriptome and epigenome. Second, prenatal maternal mood may alter placental function to adversely impact foetal and child development. Finally, we discuss the less well established but interesting possibility that altered placental function, more specifically changes in placental hormones, may adversely affect maternal mood and later maternal behaviour, which can also have consequence for offspring well-being.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neuroendocrinol

Publication Date





foetal programming, hormones, maternal mood, placenta, prenatal stress, Affect, Animals, Child, Child Behavior Disorders, Epigenesis, Genetic, Female, Fetal Development, Humans, Maternal Behavior, Maternal-Fetal Exchange, Placenta, Pregnancy, Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects, Problem Behavior, Stress, Psychological