Although insulin has been demonstrated in human fetal pancreas as early as thirteen weeks of gestation, the controls of insulin secretion in the human fetus and the magnitude of placental insulin transfer to the fetus are unknown. In pregnant women, scheduled for therapeutic abortions by abdominal hysterolomy at fifteen to twenty weeks of gestation, the fetal plasma insulin response to glucose infusion and insulin transfer across the placenta were studied as follows: (1) glucose was infused to eight fetuses in situ, and (2) insulin-I-131 was infused continuously for four to six hours to eight pregnant women via peripheral vein.
Insulin was measured radioimmunologically and, following the infusion studies, was precipitated quantitatively by a double antibody method. During fasting, no difference was observed between fetal and maternal plasma glucose or in insulin levels. Although glucose administered to the fetus raised the fetal plasma glucose concentration without changing the maternal level, both fetal and maternal plasma insulin concentrations were unchanged at five and ten minutes. Human insulin-I-131 was not transferred across the placenta and no sequestration of insulin-I-131 occurred in the placenta. Early in human gestation the fetal pancreas appears to be the major source of fetal insulin, and the fetal insulin secretion rate may be relatively unresponsive to acute changes in blood glucose concentration. The placenta acts as a barrier to human insulin-I-131 but does not appear to sequester and catabolize insulin-I-131, as was previously demonstrated in human pregnancies at term.