JAN 24, 2018 06:37 AM PST

Preterm Babies More Likely to Have Heart Disease in Adulthood

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

When babies are born too early, they run the risk of developing problems in the lungs, brain, kidneys and more. Now, from the University of Washington, scientists found that heart function later in life is also a concern for preterm babies.

A caregiver's hand cradles the feet of a preterm infant in the University of Washington Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Credit: UW Medicine

Preterm birth is normally defined as a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around two percent of all births in the United States are preterm.

In the present study, scientists found that inflammatory reactions that accompany an infection prevent normal heart development, which relies of specific gene activity. This complication may not be evident during infancy or childhood, but researchers believe the consequences to come to fruition in adulthood.

"This study is the first to show that the gene program for heart development in preterm babies is interrupted in preterm babies exposed to fetal infection and inflammation, which may lead to incomplete heart development," explained co-study leader Timothy Mitchell. "This incomplete development, in turn, may be lead to the higher risk of abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure seen when preterm babies reach adulthood."

Mitchell and other researchers made the connection between preterm birth and heart disease later in life by investigating certain gene networks. Activity in these networks is interrupted by inflammatory protein levels that spike during fetal infection.

In their study, the researchers used a preterm birth animal model believed to be one of the closest to human pregnancy: heart tissue from pigtail macaque monkeys. Pregnant mothers were infected with bacteria that often cause infections in human mothers and lead to preterm birth.

Compared to heart tissue from healthy preterm monkeys, bacteria-infected tissue showed signs of altered gene expression. Three of the genes identified, NPPA, MYH6, ACE2, have been associated with heart disease and/or heart development in the past. Additionally, researchers saw evidence of altered gene network expression linked to heart and blood vessel formation.

"We are only beginning to understand the health risks that infection and inflammation pose to the developing fetus, particularly in the setting of an early preterm birth," explained co-study leader Lakshmi Rajagopal. "We need a better understanding of how bacteria invade the uterus to cause preterm birth so that we can develop therapies to prevent fetal infections.”

The present study was published in the journal American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Source: University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 21, 2018
Cardiology
NOV 21, 2018
What We Know About Kawasaki Disease
Kawasaki disease discovered by Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki, a Japanese pediatrician, is a rare type of vasculitis, or inflammation of the blood vessels. It&rsquo...
DEC 24, 2018
Cardiology
DEC 24, 2018
Heart Attack Risk Highest On Christmas Eve
This year researchers used the Swedish Web System for Enhancement and Development of Evidence-Based Care in Heart Disease Evaluated According to Recommende...
JAN 25, 2019
Cardiology
JAN 25, 2019
Tech Companies Launch Battle Against Heart Disease
Tech companies know that heart disease is the most common cause of death worldwide. This makes the tech we already use every day well suited to becoming ge...
FEB 01, 2019
Drug Discovery
FEB 01, 2019
Statin Therapy Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Complications Regardless of Age
A meta-analysis study, from randomized clinical trials, found that regardless of age, statin therapy is effective in decreasing the risk of developing vasc...
FEB 18, 2019
Cardiology
FEB 18, 2019
The Problems With Raced Based Medicine
Race is often used in medicine to evaluate symptoms, make diagnoses, and decide on a course of care. These systems of evaluation are often inaccurate repre...
FEB 25, 2019
Cardiology
FEB 25, 2019
We Can Do Better Than Stitches For Wounds
If you’ve made it into adulthood chances are you’ve suffered some flesh wounds over the years. Some of these may have required stitches which, ...
Loading Comments...