Thursday, February 4, 2010
Genes in the mother and the fetus play a role in the risk of preterm labor, a leading cause of infant death and disability
Researchers found that gene variants in the mother and fetus can make them susceptible to an inflammatory response to infections inside the uterus, raising the risk that a baby will be born early - before 37 weeks of gestation. A preterm baby has a 120 times greater risk of death than a baby born full term, and survivors are at risk of breathing difficulties, bleeding into the brain, and having a significant neurological handicap such as cerebral palsy. Scientists said the findings support the notion that preterm delivery is an evolutionary mechanism intended to protect baby and mother from infection. The found that one of every three premature babies is born to a mother who has an infection in the normally sterile amniotic fluid that surrounds the developing fetus. In the fetus, the strongest gene influence was the interleukin 6 receptor, which is involved in the body's response to inflammation. In the mother, scientists focused on one gene called tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase 2, or TIMP2, which affects structures in the cervix and uterus that get broken down at the start of labor. Scientists said when there is an infection, the combination of these two genetic profiles raises the risk of preterm labor as the body attempts to preserve the mother's and baby's lives.