Journal of developmental origins of health and disease

Placental 11 β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11β-HSD2) expression very early during human pregnancy.

PMID 28112069


Maternal physiologic stress during gestation has been reported to be associated with negative developmental outcomes, including intra-uterine growth restriction and reduced birth weight, which can impact postnatal development, behavior and health. The human fetus is partially protected from elevated cortisol exposure by placental 11 β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11β-HSD2), which oxidizes bioactive cortisol into bio-inactive cortisone. Importantly, despite the critical protective role hypothesized for 11β-HSD2, the onset of its placental expression has yet to be clearly established. To this aim, we present immunocytochemical analysis of placentas collected 3-6 weeks post-conception. 11β-HSD2 was present as early as 3 weeks post-conception in syncytiotrophoblasts, where most maternal-fetal exchange occurs, and in columnar epithelial cells encircling uterine endometrial glands, which provide early histiopathic nutrition to the embryo. 11β-HSD2 expression in these critical maternal-fetal exchange areas is consistent with its hypothesized protective role. Future studies should investigate the mechanisms that may modulate embryonic glucocorticoid exposure earlier, immediately post-conception.