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Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism
Volume 2012, Article ID 837901, 12 pages
Review Article

The Interplay between Estrogen and Fetal Adrenal Cortex

1Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3E2
2Department of Kinesiology, Center for Bone and Muscle Health, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON, Canada L2S 3A1

Received 2 December 2011; Accepted 3 January 2012

Academic Editor: Barbara Alexander

Copyright © 2012 Jovana Kaludjerovic and Wendy E. Ward. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Estrogen is a steroid hormone that regulates embryogenesis, cell proliferation and differentiation, organogenesis, the timing of parturition, and fetal imprinting by carrying chemical messages from glands to cells within tissues or organs in the body. During development, placenta is the primary source of estrogen production but estrogen can only be produced if the fetus or the mother supplies dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), the estrogen prohormone. Studies show that the fetal zone of the fetal adrenal cortex supplies 60% of DHEA for placental estrogen production, and that placental estrogen in turn modulates the morphological and functional development of the fetal adrenal cortex. As such, in developed countries where humans are exposed daily to environmental estrogens, there is concern that the development of fetal adrenal cortex, and in turn, placental estrogen production may be disrupted. This paper discusses fetal adrenal gland development, how endogenous estrogen regulates the structure and function of the fetal adrenal cortex, and highlights the potential role that early life exposure to environmental estrogens may have on the development and endocrinology of the fetal adrenal cortex.