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Alison J Forhead PhD

University Lecturer
Tel: +44 (0)1223 333853/766125, Fax: +44 (0)1223 333840, E-mail:

My research interests are in mammalian endocrinology and the endocrine regulation of physiology and development in the fetus. Currently, my research work is focussed on two main areas:

Development and regulation of endocrine systems in the fetus
These studies have examined the bioavailability of hormones in the fetus, in particular, the glucocorticoids, thyroid hormones, leptin, insulin-like growth factors and the renin-angiotensin system. Our analyses of hormone systems in utero have included measurements of circulating concentrations, tissue metabolism and metabolic enzymes, cellular uptake mechanisms and receptor expression. These studies have demonstrated complex interactions between endocrine systems before birth and have elucidated a variety of cellular and molecular mechanisms of developmental control.

Endocrine control of fetal growth, development and maturation
My research has also investigated the role of hormones in the regulation of normal fetal development. These studies have an integrative approach to systems animal biology by examining a wide variety of fetal tissues and organs, and aspects of fetal physiology, including growth, cardiovascular and renal function, nutrition and metabolism. In particular, several of these studies have established the importance of endocrine signals in fetal maturation near to delivery and in the successful transition from the intrauterine to extrauterine environment at birth. We have investigated the mechanisms of glucocorticoid action in several physiological systems, and demonstrated the important roles of other hormones, such as thyroid hormones and angiotensin II, in mediating many of the maturational effects of glucocorticoids.

Overall, my research has an integrative approach to the study of mammalian endocrinology and systems animal physiology. The research findings have important implications for the understanding of normal fetal growth and development, the consequences of prematurity and fetal endocrine disorders, and the mechanisms underlying the intrauterine programming of adult (patho)physiology.

Professor Abigail Fowden (PDN, University of Cambridge)
Dr Dino Giussani (PDN, University of Cambridge)
Dr Peter Wooding (PDN, University of Cambridge)
Dr Sue Ozanne (Clinical Biochemistry, University of Cambridge)
Dr Dominique Blache (University of Western Australia, Australia)
Dr Min Du (University of Wyoming, USA)
Dr Theo Visser (Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Main sources of funding: BBSRC, Isaac Newton Trust, The Royal Society

Selected recent publications
Forhead AJ, Lamb CA, Franko KL, O'Connor DM, Wooding FBP, Cripps RL, Ozanne S, Blache D, Shen QW, Du M & Fowden AL (2008) Role of leptin in the regulation of growth and carbohydrate metabolism in the ovine fetus during late gestation. Journal of Physiology 586: 2393-2403.

Holmes K, Charnock-Jones DS, Forhead AJ, Giusanni DA, Fowden AL, Licence D, Kempster S & Smith GCS (2008) Localization and control of expression of VEGF-A and the VEGFR-2 receptor in fetal sheep intestines. Pediatric Research 63: 143-148.

Forhead AJ, Jellyman JK, Gardner DS, Giussani DA, Kaptein E, Visser TJ & Fowden AL (2007) Differential effects of maternal dexamethasone treatment on circulating thyroid hormone concentrations and tissue deiodinase activity in the pregnant ewe and fetus. Endocrinology 148: 800-805.

Fowden AL & Forhead AJ (2007) Effects of pituitary hormone deficiency on growth and glucose metabolism of the sheep fetus. Endocrinology 148: 4812-4820.

Franko KL, Giussani DA, Forhead AJ & Fowden AL (2007) Effects of dexamethasone on the glucogenic capacity of fetal, pregnant and non-pregnant adult sheep. Journal of Endocrinology 192: 67-73.

O'Connor DM, Blache D, Hoggard N, Brookes E, Wooding FBP, Fowden AL & Forhead AJ (2007) Developmental control of plasma leptin and adipose leptin mRNA in the ovine fetus during late gestation: role of glucocorticoids and thyroid hormones. Endocrinology 148: 3750-3757.

Forhead AJ, Curtis K, Kaptein E, Visser TJ & Fowden AL (2006) Developmental control of iodothyronine deiodinases by cortisol in the ovine fetus and placenta near term. Endocrinology 147: 5988-5994.

Ward JW, Forhead AJ, Wooding FBP & Fowden AL (2006) Functional significance and cortisol dependence of the gross morphology of ovine placentomes during late gestation. Biology of Reproduction 74: 137-145.


Above: Co-localisation of (A) insulin and (B) leptin receptor proteins in pancreatic β-cells of the ovine fetus.