The Italian Almanac

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Hormones

A new Italian study has revealed how certain maternal hormones are transferred to the foetus in the womb, playing a critical role in ensuring the baby's mental health. The research, led by Alfredo Pontecorvi of the Rome Catholic University, confirmed that thyroid hormones are directly transferred from mother to embryo through the placenta during the early stages of pregnancy.

Thyroid hormones are vital for the development of the baby's nervous system and can cause severe brain damage if not diagnosed and treated immediately at birth. "Thyroid hormones appear to be important even during the embryonic period, in the first trimester of pregnancy, when foetal thyroid function is not yet active," explained Pontecorvi.

Scientists have long known that mothers with a shortage of thyroid hormones produced babies with a more severe form of the condition, known as congenital hypothyroidism, but the precise reason for this had not been proved. "It is known that children whose mothers have hypothyroidism during pregnancy show a significantly lower IQ than those whose mothers have a normal thyroid function," Pontecorvi said. "However, this was only indirect evidence suggesting that maternal thyroid hormones were transmitted to foetus through the placenta".

The Italian study, which brought together scientists from several institutes, has now confirmed that mothers transfer these critical hormones to their offspring in the womb during the earliest stages of development. Pontecorvi said the experiment would assist scientists studying the effects of maternal hypothyroidism during pregnancy and potentially help minimize damage.

Details of the study appear in the latest edition of the international Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.