Fetal growth is a complex process that depends on the genotype and epigenotype of the fetus, maternal nutrition, the availability of nutrients and oxygen to the fetus, intrauterine insults, and a variety of growth factors and proteins of maternal and fetal/placental origin. In the fetus, growth hormone (GH) plays little or no role in regulating fetal growth, and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) control growth directly independent of fetal GH secretion. Placental growth hormone (PGH) is the prime regulator of maternal serum IGF-1 during pregnancy. Total as well as free PGH and IGFs are significantly lower in pregnancies with intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR). The GH/IGF axis is significantly affected by intrauterine growth retardation and some of these alterations may lead to permanent pathological programming of the IGF axis. Alterations in the IGF axis may play a role in the future occurrence of insulin resistance and hypertension. In this review we focus on the regulation of fetal growth and the role of fetal programming in the late consequences of a poor fetal environment reflected in IUGR.
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