The elucidation of the tissue-specific profile of expression of the prolactin (PRL) and growth hormone (GH) receptors during embryonic and fetal development in a range of species has provided a new impetus for the delineation of the specific roles of the hormone ligands for these receptors in development. During late gestation, there is a requirement to shift from a phase of predominant cellular proliferation, where placental nutrient supply is a dominant influence on organ and body growth, to one of functional differentiation, which is required for independent homoeostasis after birth. In this review we discuss the interactions between the pre-partum increases in cortisol and thyroid hormones and the synthesis, secretion and actions of fetal PRL and GH. We also review the changes that occur in the tissue-specific expression of the PRL and GH receptors before birth which may play an important role in precocial species in the successful transition of the fetus to extra-uterine life.

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