Parathyroid hormone and calcium were measured in plasma taken from pregnant women at term and from the umbilical veins of their infants at birth. Three assays were used to measure parathyroid hormone, a cytochemical bioassay of bioactivity and two immunoradiometric assays, one specific for the amino terminus, the other specific for the carboxy terminus of the parathyroid hormone molecule. Plasma calcium was significantly higher in the infants than in the mothers. Maternal parathyroid hormone bioactivity and the amino terminus were both slightly raised, but the carboxy terminus value was normal; these findings supported the view that late pregnancy is a time of mild physiological hyperparathyroidism. In the infants, the amino terminus was undetectable and the carboxy terminus was either undetectable or towards the lower end of the normal range: bioactivity of parathyroid hormone was considerably raised and was related to the gradient of calcium across the placenta. This suggests that the parathyroid glands are not suppressed during fetal life and that they may play an important part in the maintenance of high fetal plasma calcium concentrations.
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