Genes linked to preterm birth risk identified

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Washington, Feb 5 (ANI): Scientists have identified certain genetic variants in mothers and foetuses that appear to play a vital role in premature labour.

The variants were found in genes involved in the regulation of inflammation and of the extracellular matrix, the mesh-like material that holds cells within tissues.

"A substantial body of scientific evidence indicates that inflammatory hormones may play a significant role in the labour process," said Dr Alan E. Guttmacher, acting director of the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

"The current findings add evidence that individual genetic variation in that response may account for why preterm labour occurs in some pregnancies and not in others," Shiver added.

Infants born preterm are at risk for infant death, life-threatening infections, blindness, breathing problems, learning and developmental disabilities, and cerebral palsy.

These findings may one day lead to new strategies to identify those at risk for preterm birth, and to ways to reduce the occurrence of preterm birth among those at risk.

"Our hypothesis is that the mother and/or the foetus signal the onset of preterm labour when the environment inside the uterus is unfavourable and threatens the survival of the maternal-fetal pair," said Dr. Roberto Romero chief of the perinatology research branch and program head for perinatal research and obstetrics at the NICHD.

"When there is an infection in the uterus, the onset of premature labor appears to have survival value," Romero said.

"In the presence of infection, premature labour would allow the mother to rid herself of the infected tissue and preserve her ability to have future pregnancies. If premature labour occurs too early, babies may not survive.

If premature labour due to infection occurs late in pregnancy, it may be life-saving for both mother and foetus.

The new study involving 229 women and 179 premature infants, showed that infants who carried the DNA variant in the gene for the Interleukin 6 receptor were more likely to be born premature than those who did not.

Interleukin 6 is produced by cells in response to infection and is involved in inflammation.

In previous studies, Dr. Romero and his team found that high levels of Interleukin 6 are associated with the beginning of premature labour.

The findings were presented at the 30th Annual Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. (ANI)

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