Birth in many animal species and in humans is associated with activation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function in the fetus and the increased influence of glucocorticoids on trophoblast cells of the placenta and fetal membranes. We suggest that in ovine pregnancy glucocorticoids directly increase fetal placental prostaglandin production, and indirectly increase prostaglandin production by maternal uterine tissues through the stimulation of placental estradiol synthesis. The events of ovine parturition are compared with those of human parturition. In the latter, we suggest similar direct effects of glucocorticoids on prostaglandin synthesis and metabolism in fetal membranes and similar indirect effects mediated by glucocorticoid-stimulated increases in intrauterine corticotropin-releasing hormone expression.
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