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Dr Alison J Forhead

My research interests are in mammalian endocrinology and the hormonal regulation of fetal physiology and development. Currently, my research work is focussed on (a) development and regulation of endocrine systems in the fetus and (b) hormonal control of fetal growth, development and maturation.
Dr Alison J Forhead

University Lecturer

Office Phone: +44 (0) 1223 333853/766125, Fax: +44 (0) 1223 333840

Research Interests

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.  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.

Hormonal control of fetal growth, development and maturation

My research has investigated the role of hormones in the regulation of normal fetal development.  These studies have an integrative approach by examining a wide variety of fetal tissues and organs, and aspects of fetal physiology, including growth, cardiovascular, lung 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.  I have investigated the mechanisms of glucocorticoid action in several physiological systems, and demonstrated the key 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, intrauterine growth retardation and fetal endocrine disorders; and the mechanisms underlying the developmental programming of adult (patho)physiology. 


Professor Abigail Fowden, PDN, University of Cambridge
Dr Dino Giussani, PDN, University of Cambridge
Dr Sue Ozanne, Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge
Professor Gordon Smith, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Cambridge
Dr Dominique Blache, University of Western Australia, Australia
Professor Min Du, Department of Animal Sciences, Washington State University
Professor Richard Oreffo, Institute of Developmental Sciences, University of Southampton
Dr Theo Visser, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Dr Sean Limesand, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA


Module Organiser for P3 Placental and Fetal Physiology in Part II PDN

Lecturer in Part II PDN P3 Placental and Fetal Physiology; Part 1B Veterinary Reproductive Biology and Part 1B Physiology

Key Publications

De Blasio MJ, Boije M, Bernstein BS, Davies KL, Plein A, Kempster SL, Smith GCS, Charnock-Jones DS, Blache D, Wooding FBP, Giussani DA, Fowden AL, Forhead AJ, (2015), Developmental expression and glucocorticoid control of the leptin receptor in fetal lung, PLoS One, 10(8): e0136115

Forhead AJ, JellymanJK, De BlasioMJ, JohnsonE, GiussaniDA, Broughton PipkinF, FowdenAL, (2015), Maternal dexamethasone treatment alters circulating and tissue components of the renin-angiotensin system in the pregnant ewe and fetus, Endocrinology, 156: 3038-3046

Jellyman JK, Cripps RL, Martin-Gronert MS, Giussani DA, Ozanne SE, Shen QW, Du M, Fowden AL, Forhead AJ, (2012), Effects of cortisol and dexamethasone on insulin signalling pathways in skeletal muscle of the ovine fetus during late gestation, PLoS One, 7(12): e52363

Forhead AJ, Jellyman JK, Gillham K, Ward JW, Blache D, Fowden AL, (2011), Renal growth retardation following angiotensin II type 1 (AT1) receptor antagonism is associated with increased AT2 receptor expression in fetal sheep during late gestation, Journal of Endocrinology, 208: 137-145

Lanham SA, Fowden AL, Roberts C, Oreffo ROC, Cooper C, Forhead AJ, (2011), Effects of hypothyroidism on the structure and mechanical properties of bone in the ovine fetus, Journal of Endocrinology, 210: 189-198

Belteki G, Kempster SL, Forhead AJ, Giussani DA, Fowden AL, Curley A, Charnock-Jones DS, Smith GCS, (2010), Paraoxonase-3, a putative circulating antioxidant, is systemically up-regulated in late gestation in the fetal rat, sheep, and human, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 95: 3798-3805

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

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

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, Fowden AL, (2014), Thyroid hormones in fetal growth and prepartum maturation, Journal of Endocrinology, 221: R87-R103

Forhead AJ, Fowden AL, (2011), Chapter 7, The consequences for preterm infants of antenatal glucocorticoid treatment, In Birth Rites and Rights, Eds Ebtehaj F, Herring J, Johnson MH & Richards M. Hart Publishing, pp. 129-149

Forhead AJ, Fowden AL, (2009), The hungry fetus? Role of leptin as a nutritional signal before birth, Journal of Physiology, 587: 1145-1152

Plain English

Endocrinology is the study of glands and hormones that regulate many functions of the body. The endocrine system is made of several glands (such as the thyroid, the pancreas and the adrenal gland) that secrete hormones into the blood stream. My research is focused on how this system develops in the baby during pregnancy, and
how hormones influence the growth of the fetus.

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