Rebecca Fry, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Researchers supported in part by NIEHS identified genes whose expression levels are associated with both prenatal inflammation and later neurocognitive impairment. Results from the study of preterm infants suggested that the prenatal environment could affect neurodevelopment in ways that persist into later childhood.
Using umbilical cord tissue obtained from 43 babies born before 28 weeks of gestation, the researchers identified 445 genes with expression levels linked to inflammation in the womb. They examined the function of these genes and whether expression levels in umbilical cord tissue could predict neurocognitive function at 10 years of age. The inflammation-associated genes that showed decreased expression also significantly enhanced biological processes related to brain development and growth. The researchers also found that six of the 445 identified genes predicted neurocognitive impairment at age 10 years.
By identifying genes associated with neurodevelopmental problems, the work may eventually lead to improved detection of neurocognitive deficits and earlier intervention for children who are at risk. According to the authors, future research is needed to identify the underlying mechanisms.
Citation: Tilley SK, Joseph RM, Kuban KCK, Dammann OU, O'Shea TM, Fry RC. 2017. Genomic biomarkers of prenatal intrauterine inflammation in umbilical cord tissue predict later life neurological outcomes. PLoS One 12(5):e0176953.