Duration of a Pregnancy is Linked With the Changes in Newborn’s DNA

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have studied that the length of a pregnancy is linked with the chemical changes in DNA of newborn babies. They observed these chemical DNA changes in more than 600 newborn infants. With each week’s longer pregnancy, DNA methylation changes were observed in the thousands of genes in the umbilical cord blood. The team’s finding is published in Genome Medicine.

The birth which is before the 37 consecutive weeks of pregnancy is known as premature birth. It is very common as 5-10 percent of babies all over the world have premature births. Most children who are born prematurely grow normally but it is connected to many disorders such as lung or respiratory diseases, neurodevelopmental disorders and eye problems.

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These problems occur in children who extremely born prematurely. During the gestation period, epigenetic processes such as chemical changes in the DNA are critical in controlling the growth and development of the infant. DNA methylation is one of the factors that affect the gene activation as it decides the formation of a particular protein.

Simon Kebede Merid who is a doctoral candidate at Karolinska Institute, Department of Clinical Sciences and Education and first author of the study said that “the findings of the study showed these chemical DNA modifications may affect the development of fetal organs”.

Scientists said that in most children these DNA methylation changes which occur at birth do not sustain in childhood. But in 17 percent of babies, these changes were completely persisted from the time of birth to adolescence. The levels of these modifications in certain genes were stable throughout childhood and thus it tracks with age.

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Erik Melen who is a professor at the Department of Clinical Science and Education, Soderjukhuset said now scientists must investigate that whether health problems in children who are born prematurely are link with these chemical DNA changes.

In the field of research, the topic of epigenetic is on the top of focus as it relates to the environment, the genes and the health of a person. This research was carried out in the International Pregnancy and Childhood Epigenetics (PACE) consortium. The results of the study showed the contribution of 26 studies.

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The first paper of the PACE was written by Professor Melen’s Group in which they showed that during pregnancy smoking induces the chemical DNA modifications in the newborns. The other two studies of PACE revealed that air pollution also affects the genes. These changes are linked to diseases such as allergy, asthma, aging, and obesity.

Erik Melen further added that new findings of the study will bring improvements in the existing knowledge about the development of fetal. In the long run, this will give new opportunities for the care of premature babies in a better way so that it will become easy to avoid serious complications and severe health effects in children.