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Evidence is accumulating that the risk of osteoporosis in later life may be determined in part by environmental influences on bone development during intrauterine and early postnatal life. A potential role for fetal leptin in mediating these effects is suggested by animal studies showing that leptin influences prenatal osteoblast growth and development, and that fetal leptin concentrations are altered by changes in maternal nutrition. In a group of term human infants we reported previously that maternal birthweight, smoking, fat mass, and exercise during late pregnancy independently predict neonatal bone mass. To investigate the potential role of leptin in mediating these effects, we now relate leptin concentrations in umbilical venous serum to neonatal bone mass and body composition in 117 infants. There were strong positive associations between umbilical venous leptin concentration and each of whole body bone mineral contents (BMC) (r = 0.42, P < or = 0.001) and estimated volumetric bone density (r = 0.21, P = 0.02); whole body lean mass (r = 0.21, P < or = 0.024); and whole body fat mass (r = 0.60, P < 0.001). The associations with neonatal BMC and fat mass, but not with lean mass, were independent of associations that we have reported previously between cord serum insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) concentrations and neonatal body composition. Among the maternal determinants of neonatal bone mass, cord leptin explained the relationship with maternal fat stores, but not those with the mother's own birthweight, smoking, or physical activity. We conclude that umbilical venous leptin predicts both the size of the neonatal skeleton and its estimated volumetric mineral density. In addition, among previously documented maternal determinants of neonatal bone mass in healthy pregnancies, maternal fat stores may mediate their effect on fetal bone accrual through variation in fetal leptin concentrations.

Original publication




Journal article


Calcif Tissue Int

Publication Date





341 - 347


Absorptiometry, Photon, Adipose Tissue, Anthropometry, Birth Weight, Body Composition, Bone Density, Bone and Bones, Female, Fetal Blood, Humans, Infant, Newborn, Leptin, Male, Osteoporosis