The insulin-like growth factor system and the fetal brain: Effects of poor maternal nutrition

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23 Scopus citations


The insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signaling system plays indispensable roles in pre- and post-natal brain growth and development. A large body of studies using both in vivo null mutant and transgenic mice and in vitro neuronal culture techniques indicate that IGF-I acts directly on the brain while IGF-II effects are mediated to a large extent by IGF-II control of placental growth. It appears that all of the mechanisms, except migration, that are involved in normal brain development, e.g., proliferation, apoptosis, maturation and differentiation, are influenced by IGF-I. While IGF system members are produced in the brain, recent reports in post-natal animals indicate that normal brain health and function are dependent upon transfer of circulating IGF-I from the liver and its transfer across the blood brain barrier. Data showing that this phenomenon applies to pre-natal brain growth and development would make an important contribution to fetal physiology. A number of kinase pathways are able to participate in IGF signaling in brain with respect to nutrient restriction; among the most important are the PI3K/AKT, Ras-Raf-MEK-ERK and mTOR-nutrient sensing pathways. Both maternal and fetal IGF-I peripheral plasma concentrations are greatly reduced in nutrient restriction while IGF-II does not appear to be affected. Nutrient restriction also affects IGF binding protein concentrations while effects on the IGF-I receptor appear to vary with the paradigm. Studies on the effects of nutrient restriction on the fetal primate brain in relation to activity of the IGF system are needed to determine the applicability of rodent studies to humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-84
Number of pages14
JournalReviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2007


  • Fetal brain
  • Insulin-like growth factor system
  • Poor maternal nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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