Epidemiological and experimental evidence suggests that maternal undernutrition during pregnancy may alter development of fetal organ systems. We have demonstrated previously that fetal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses to exogenous corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) + arginine vasopressin (AVP), or adrenocorticotrophin hormone (ACTH), are reduced in fetuses of mildly undernourished ewes. To examine these effects further we tested HPA axis responses to acute isocapnic hypoxaemia in fetal sheep at 114-129 days gestation (dGA), following 15 % reduction in maternal nutritional intake between 0 and 70 dGA. Fetuses from control (C) and nutrient-restricted (R) ewes were chronically catheterised and plasma ACTH and cortisol responses were determined at 114-115, 120-123 and 126-129 dGA during hypoxaemia (1 h) induced by lowering the maternal inspired O2 fraction (FI,O2). Basal plasma cortisol concentrations and HPA axis responses at 114-115 and 120-123 dGA did not differ between C and R fetuses. At 126-129 dGA, both plasma ACTH (P < 0.01) and cortisol (P < 0.05) responses were smaller in R fetuses compared to C fetuses. Fetal blood gas status, fetal body weight, body proportions and organ weights did not differ between the groups. We conclude that mild maternal undernutrition alters development of the fetal HPA axis producing a reduction in pituitary and adrenal responsiveness to endogenous stimuli.