Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Why Are Males More at Risk in the Womb?

foetus

Birth weight and poor growth in the womb are associated with conditions appearing decades later, such as heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and psychiatric disorders.

By Sam Buckberry & Claire Roberts

Subtle changes in the placenta before a child’s birth can affect its predisposition to chronic disease and premature death many years later – and unborn boys are most vulnerable.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Tiny and seemingly insignificant deviations from a rocket’s course at take-off can have significant and measurable effects on its ultimate trajectory. In a similar vein, could minute changes in the function of the human placenta before a child’s birth affect its predisposition to chronic disease and premature death many years later? And are males genetically more predisposed to problems while still in the womb than females? These questions are at the forefront of our research into sex differences in placental function and foetal growth.

Significant sex differences in the foetal growth patterns of human babies have long been recognised. For example, baby boys are, on average, larger than girls at birth. One in four pregnancies in Australia will feature an obstetric complication, and a disproportionate number of these pregnancies will be carrying a male baby. Several studies in the 1990s reported sex biases in the incidence and severity of pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia, where the mother develops high blood pressure and impaired kidney function.

Not only does this sex bias have consequences during pregnancy – it may be linked to some adult-onset diseases too.

Although the underlying causes of many pregnancy pathologies remain elusive, we do know that abnormal or sub-optimal functioning of the placenta plays a significant role. There seem...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.