Asthma during pregnancy is associated with a low birth weight, although the mechanisms contributing to this outcome remain unknown. The relationship between maternal asthma and its treatment, placental function, fetal sex, and low birth weight was examined to establish the effect of asthma on fetal growth. Glucocorticoid intake by women with asthma was assessed throughout pregnancy. The placenta was collected after delivery, and 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11β-HSD2) activity was measured. Fetal cortisol and estriol were measured in the umbilical vein plasma at delivery. Those with asthma were compared with a nonasthmatic control group. In women with asthma who did not use inhaled steroids and were pregnant with a female fetus, we observed significantly reduced birth weights, whereas male birth weights were unaffected. The presence of a female fetus was associated with significantly increased maternal circulating monocytes, significantly reduced placental 11β-HSD2 activity and fetal estriol, and a trend toward elevated fetal plasma cortisol. This study provides evidence that in pregnancies complicated by asthma there is a fetal sex-specific effect on the maternal immune system with adverse effects on placental function and female fetal growth.
American Journal of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine Vol. 168, Issue 11, p. 1317-1323