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NIH scientists identify maternal and fetal genes that increase preterm birth risk
Date:2/4/2010

f research by Dr. Romero and his colleagues. On the basis of earlier studies, the scientists had determined that an estimated 1 of every 3 preterm infants is born to a mother who has a silent infection of the amniotic fluid. A silent infection is one which does not show any outward signs or symptoms.

Dr. Romero described pregnancy as a unique state in which two genetically distinct organismsmother and fetusmust coexist. Each fights infection by using hormones that stimulate the immune system. Hormones which play a role in immunity also play a role in labor. When released by either the mother, or the fetus, these hormones set in motion a cascade of events that can cause labor to begin.

"Our hypothesis is that the mother and/or the fetus signal the onset of preterm labor when the environment inside the uterus is unfavorable and threatens the survival of the maternal-fetal pair," Dr. Romero said.

Similar to sensitivity to allergens such as dust mites or pollen, the intensity of the immune response varies greatly, depending on genetic factors, the scientists theorize. Presumably, this genetic variability in the immune response accounts for why some pregnancies progress to full term, while others end early,

"When there is an infection in the uterus, the onset of premature labor appears to have survival value," Dr. Romero said. "In the presence of infection, premature labor would allow the mother to rid herself of the infected tissue and preserve her ability to have future pregnancies. If premature labor occurs too early, babies may not survive." If premature labor due to infection occurs late in pregnancy, it may be life-saving for both mother and fetus.

Along with genes controlling the inflammatory response, the physician-scientists also found that DNA variants in genes active in the extracellular matrix were also linked to premature labor. The extracellular matrix is the mesh-like material that holds cells within t
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Contact: Robert Bock
bockr@mail.nih.gov
301-496-5133
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Source:Eurekalert

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