The growth hormone-insulin-like growth factor axis in pregnancy

Harleen Kaur, Beverly S. Muhlhausler, Claire T. Roberts, Kathryn L. Gatford

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The growth hormone (GH)-insulin-like growth factor (IGF) axis is one of the main drivers of mammalian growth and development. Pituitary secretion of GH is pulsatile and under positive and negative hypothalamic control, as well as stimulation from gastric-secreted acyl-ghrelin. GH acts both directly via the GH-receptor (GHR) and indirectly via stimulation of IGF1 production to induce anabolic and metabolic responses at multiple target tissues. In this review, we describe the major changes to this axis during pregnancy, with increasing GH abundance in the maternal circulation across multiple species. This stimulates the secretion of IGFs, whose bioavailability is also increased by proteolytic cleavage of their circulating binding proteins during pregnancy. These changes in turn induce maternal metabolic adaptations to pregnancy and promote placental function and fetal growth, as does exogenous GH or IGF treatment in animal models of normal and compromised pregnancy. Finally, we explore alternative approaches to enhance maternal GH abundance during pregnancy to promote maternal adaptations, placental function and hence fetal growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R23-R39
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Endocrinology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

During the writing of this review, H K was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program PhD scholarship, and B S M

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Society for Endocrinology.


  • Fetus
  • Growth hormone
  • IGF
  • Placenta
  • Pregnancy


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