Child neurodevelopmental outcomes following preterm and term birth: What can the placenta tell us?

Nicolette A. Hodyl, Natalie Aboustate, Tina Bianco-Miotto, Claire T. Roberts, Vicki L. Clifton, Michael J. Stark

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


A significant proportion of children born preterm will experience some level of neurodevelopmental impairment. Changes in placental function have been observed with many antenatal conditions that are risk factors for preterm birth and/or poor neurodevelopment including fetal growth restriction and in-utero inflammation. This review will highlight placental factors that have been studied to understand the underlying mechanisms and identify biomarkers that lead to poor child neurodevelopmental outcomes. These include changes in gross morphological and histopathological structure and the placental inflammatory response to prenatal infection. Further, we will describe the placenta's role as both a barrier to maternally-derived bioactive substances critical for normal fetal brain development, such as cortisol, and a source of neuroactive steroids and neurotrophins known to have critical functions in neuronal proliferation, axonal growth, myelination and the regulation of apoptosis. Finally, emerging data supporting the potential utility of novel placental biomarkers in the early prediction of poor neurodevelopmental outcome in infants born both preterm and term will be discussed. These include the assessment of genetic variants (e.g. single nucleotide polymorphisms in placental tissue) and epigenetic biomarkers (e.g. placental microRNAs and placental DNA methylation). With the placenta the key tissue regulating the fetal environment, integration of observed changes in placental function with genetic and epigenetic variations may advance our ability to predict future infant health. Ultimately, this may facilitate targeted allocation of health resources with the aim of improving lifelong neurodevelopmental capability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-86
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomarkers
  • Brain development
  • Fetal development
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Placenta
  • Preterm birth


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