Human Chorionic Gonadotropin

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File:Pregnancy test

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG, or human chorionic gonadotrophin) is a placental hormone initially secreted by cells (syncitiotrophoblasts) from the implanting conceptus during week 2, supporting the ovarian corpus luteum, which in turn supports the endometrial lining and therefore maintains pregnancy.[1][2]

The hormone can be detected in maternal blood and urine and is the basis of many pregnancy tests. The protein has many other roles including stimulating the onset of fetal gonadal steroidogenesis, and high levels have been found to be teratogenic to fetal gonadal tissues.

Other potential cellular sources can include: hyperglycosylated hCG produced by cytotrophoblast cells, free beta-subunit made by multiple primary non-trophoblastic malignancies, and pituitary hCG made by the gonadotrope cells of the anterior pituitary.

A member of the glycoprotein hormone family that includes the pituitary hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

Links: Implantation | Ectopic Implantation | Placenta Development | Week 2 | Trophoblast | Endocrine Placenta | Ovary Development | Human Chorionic Gonadotropin | Pregnancy Test

Factor Links: hCG | BMP | Sonic hedgehog | Homeobox | FGF | Nanog | Notch | Fox | Pax | Retinoic acid | Six | Slit2/Robo1 | Sox | Tbx | TGF-beta | VEGF | Wnt | Hippo | Category:Molecular

Some Recent Findings

  • Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Induces Human Macrophages to Form Intracytoplasmic Vacuoles Mimicking Hofbauer Cells in Human Chorionic Villi[3] The most characteristic morphological feature of macrophages in the stroma of placental villi, known as Hofbauer cells, is their highly vacuolated appearance. They also show positive immunostaining for human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)."
  • Serum biomarkers for predicting pregnancy outcome in women undergoing IVF[4] "This study was performed to assess the prognostic value of serum hCG, progesterone, and inhibin A levels measured at 11 days post-ET for predicting pregnancy outcome in women participating in IVF. Between May 2005 and April 2008, sera were obtained from 70 infertile women who underwent IVF-ET at 11 days post-ET and stored. HCG, progesterone, and inhibin A levels were measured by commercial enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kits. The predictive accuracy of hCG, progesterone, and inhibin A levels for establishment of intrauterine pregnancy and ongoing pregnancy was calculated by receiver-operating characteristic curve analysis. For the prediction of intrauterine and ongoing pregnancy, serum hCG was better than progesterone and inhibin A. The predictive performance of progesterone and inhibin A was similar. The serum progesterone and inhibin A levels were significantly correlated each other (r=0.915, p=0.010)."
More recent papers
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Search term: Human Chorionic Gonadotropin

Yakun Wang, Xiaoqiong Hao, Jing Yang, Jia Li, Meijia Zhang CREB activity is required for luteinizing hormone-induced the expression of EGF-like factors. Mol. Reprod. Dev.: 2016; PubMed 27770611

J N S Sales, M P Bottino, L A C L Silva, R W Girotto, J P M Massoneto, J C Souza, P S Baruselli Effects of eCG are more pronounced in primiparous than multiparous Bos indicus cows submitted to a timed artificial insemination protocol. Theriogenology: 2016; PubMed 27616213

Yan-Ling Liu, Man-Na Zhang, Guo-Yu Tong, Shou-Yue Sun, Yan-Hua Zhu, Ying Cao, Jie Zhang, Hong Huang, Ben Niu, Hong Li, Qing-Hua Guo, Yan Gao, Da-Long Zhu, Xiao-Ying Li, Hypogonadotropic Hypogonadism Intervention Study (HHIS) Group The effectiveness of zinc supplementation in men with isolated hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. Asian J. Androl.: 2016; PubMed 27768007

Osman Turkmen, Derman Basaran, Alper Karalok, Gunsu Comert Kimyon, Tolga Tasci, Isin Ureyen, Gokhan Tulunay, Taner Turan Factors related to treatment outcomes in low-risk gestational neoplasia. Tumori: 2016; PubMed 27514315

Afsoon Zarei, Parastoo Sohail, Mohammad Ebrahim Parsanezhad, Saeed Alborzi, Alamtaj Samsami, Maryam Azizi Comparison of four protocols for luteal phase support in frozen-thawed Embryo transfer cycles: a randomized clinical trial. Arch. Gynecol. Obstet.: 2016; PubMed 27761732


Trophoblast hCG function
  1. Promotion of corpus luteal progesterone production
  2. Angiogenesis of uterine vasculature
  3. Cytotrophoblast differentiation
  4. Immuno-suppression and blockage of phagocytosis of invading trophoblast cells
  5. Growth of uterus in line with fetal growth
  6. Quiescence of uterine muscle contraction
  7. Promotion of growth and differentiation of fetal organs
  8. Umbilical cord growth and development
  9. Blastocysts signals endometrium prior to implantation
  10. hCG in sperm and receptors found in fallopian tubes suggesting pre-pregnancy communication
  11. hCG receptors in adult brain hippocampus, hypothalamus and brain stem, may cause pregnancy nausea and vomiting
  12. hCG and implantation of pregnancy, hCG stimulates metalloproteinases of cytotrophoblast cell

(Function Data from Table 1 [2])

Maternal Blood Levels

Levels peak at 8 to 10 weeks of pregnancy, then decline and are lower for rest of pregnancy

0-1 week: 0-50 mIU/ml 

1-2 weeks: 40-300 mIU/ml
3-4 weeks: 500-6,000 mIU/ml
1-2 months: 5,000-200,000 mIU/ml
2-3 months: 10,000-100,000 mIU/ml
2nd trimester: 3,000-50,000 mIU/ml
3rd trimester: 1,000-50,000 mIU/ml

Non-pregnant females: <5.0 mIU/ml Postmenopausal females: <9.5 mIU/ml


Trophoblast cell hCG glycosylation

Human 5 protein forms:

  1. hCG
  2. sulfated hCG
  3. hyperglycosylated hCG
  4. hCG free beta
  5. hyperglycosylated free beta

The molecular weight of hCG is approximately 36,000 (36 KDa) for the α-subunit and a β-subunit that are held together by both non-covalent hydrophobic and ionic interactions.

Corpus Luteum

Human ovary - corpus luteum 11.jpg

Section through the middle of a human ovary at mid-luteal phase of the menstrual cycle after ovulation. (unlabeled image).

  • Corpus luteum (white ring) shown at top left of ovary. Note the size and colour of the the corpus luteum ("yellow body") compared to the ovary and other internal structures. If implantation and pregnancy occurs, then hCG would stimulate an increase in size and hormonal function during the early pregnancy.
    • white asterisks - possible older corpora lutea remnants.
  • Corpus albicans (white arrow) shown at the bottom right of the ovary. Note the size and colour of the corpus albicans ("white body") compared to the corpus luteum and ovary. The corpus albicans is the degenerating non-functional form of the corpus luteum that "develops" from it if implantation and pregnancy do not occur.
    • black asterisks - possible older corpora albicantia remnants.

Black arrows show the approximate cortex and medullary regions of the ovary.

Corpus luteum.jpg

Ovary corpus luteum histology.

Genital Development

Placental secreted hCG has leutenizing hiormone-like effects that can effect genital development, stimulating testosterone production from the testes of the male fetus and subsequent development of male genital system.


  1. Laurence A Cole hCG, the wonder of today's science. Reprod. Biol. Endocrinol.: 2012, 10;24 PubMed 22455390 | PMC3351023 | Reprod Biol Endocrinol.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Laurence A Cole Biological functions of hCG and hCG-related molecules. Reprod. Biol. Endocrinol.: 2010, 8;102 PubMed 20735820
  3. Munekage Yamaguchi, Takashi Ohba, Hironori Tashiro, Gen Yamada, Hidetaka Katabuchi Human chorionic gonadotropin induces human macrophages to form intracytoplasmic vacuoles mimicking Hofbauer cells in human chorionic villi. Cells Tissues Organs (Print): 2013, 197(2);127-35 PubMed 23128164
  4. Jee Hyun Kim, Mi Sun Shin, Gwang Yi, Byung Chul Jee, Jung Ryeol Lee, Chang Suk Suh, Seok Hyun Kim Serum biomarkers for predicting pregnancy outcome in women undergoing IVF: human chorionic gonadotropin, progesterone, and inhibin A level at 11 days post-ET. Clin Exp Reprod Med: 2012, 39(1);28-32 PubMed 22563548

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Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2016) Embryology Human Chorionic Gonadotropin. Retrieved October 23, 2016, from

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© Dr Mark Hill 2016, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G