Communication between the mammalian fetus and its mother is achieved through the transport and endocrine functions of the placenta, facilitated by the intimate association of uterine and umbilical microvasculature. Placental functions are, in turn, modulated by integration of signals from both maternal and fetal systems. Fetal nutrition depends absolutely on placental transfer of vital nutrients, and is therefore influenced by maternal nutritional status. However, the placenta effectively shields the fetus from direct influences of maternal hormones and immune cytokines, allowing independent development of fetal endocrine and immune systems. Also, placental constraint of fetal access to maternal nutrients ensures that unbridled fetal growth is less likely to compromise maternal metabolic health during late pregnancy or lead to serious difficulties during parturition.
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