Genetic link discovered between intrauterine growth and diseases in adulthood
4 Dec 2012
Scientists have identified four new genetic regions that influence birth weight. Growth-regulating genes begin to take effect at a very early stage. The results of a major international research project shed important light on the mechanisms that affect intrauterine growth. Eventually these results may lead to a better understanding of how to manage growth problems during pregnancy. The Academy of Finland has contributed to financing the Finnish component of the study, which has now been published in Nature Genetics online.
One of the new genetic regions is associated with blood pressure in adulthood, and three of them are also linked to adult metabolism. This is the first time that evidence has been presented of a genetic link between birth weight and blood pressure measured in adulthood. Two of the gene regions are known to be associated with adult height. The genetic link to metabolism goes some way towards explaining why lower-weight babies have higher rates of chronic disease later in life.
The project analysed almost 70,000 individuals of European descent in 43 different studies of pregnancy and birth. As well as identifying the four new genetic regions, the project team also confirmed three regions previously identified as influencing birth weight.
It has been known for some time that lower-weight babies are at higher risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, but the reasons remain poorly understood. To date, scientists have identified three genetic regions that affect birth weight, and two of these regions have also been linked with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes.
Birth weight is also heavily influenced by many environmental factors. That is why the research teams were surprised to see that the discovered genes, taken together, have a similar impact on birth weight as regular maternal smoking in pregnancy, which is known to lead to lower birth weight babies.
The Finnish contributions to the international project include the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study; two Northern Finland Birth Cohort studies NFBC (1966 and 1985–1986); the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study HBCS; the Turku Coronary Risk Factor Intervention Project STRIP; and the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children project PANIC.
Funding for the research in Finland has also been provided by Biocentrum Helsinki, the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, the European Union, the Juho Vainio Foundation, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Medical Research Council (UK), the University of Oulu and Biocenter Oulu, the Paavo Nurmi Foundation, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Sigrid Juselius Foundation, the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, the Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research, the Turku University Foundation, the Wellcome Trust (UK), the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation, and the University Hospitals of Kuopio, Oulu, Tampere and Turku.
The article is published in Nature Genetics 2 Dec 2012. DOI 10.1038/ng.2477 www.nature.com/ng/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ng.2477.html
- Professor Terho Lehtimäki, Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, University of Tampere, tel. +358 3 3117 4066 or +358 50 4336 285, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Academy Professor Olli Raitakari, Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, University of Turku, tel. +358 2 333 7556 or +358 40 768 2897, email@example.com
- Professor Marjo-Riitta Järvelin, NFBC, University of Oulu and Imperial College London, UK, tel. +358 40 560 6043 or +44 7725 41467, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Professor Timo Lakka, PANIC, University of Eastern Finland, tel. +358 40 7707 329, email@example.com
- Professor Olli Simell, STRIP, University of Turku, tel. +358 2 313 3490, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Professor Johan Eriksson, HBCS, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 9 191 27557, email@example.com
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