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1.  In-Utero Exposure to Bereavement and Offspring IQ: A Danish National Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88477.
Intelligence is a life-long trait that has strong influences on lifestyle, adult morbidity and life expectancy. Hence, lower cognitive abilities are therefore of public health interest. Our primary aim was to examine if prenatal bereavement measured as exposure to death of a close family member is associated with the intelligence quotient (IQ) scores at 18-years of age of adult Danish males completing a military cognitive screening examination.
We extracted records for the Danish military screening test and found kinship links with biological parents, siblings, and maternal grandparents using the Danish Civil Registration System (N = 167,900). The prenatal exposure period was defined as 12 months before conception until birth of the child. We categorized children as exposed in utero to severe stress (bereavement) during prenatal life if their mothers lost an elder child, husband, parent or sibling during the prenatal period; the remaining children were included in the unexposed cohort. Mean score estimates were adjusted for maternal and paternal age at birth, residence, income, maternal education, gestational age at birth and birth weight.
When exposure was due to death of a father the offsprings' mean IQ scores were lower among men completing the military recruitment exam compared to their unexposed counterparts, adjusted difference of 6.5 standard IQ points (p-value = 0.01). We did not observe a clinically significant association between exposure to prenatal maternal bereavement caused by death of a sibling, maternal uncle/aunt or maternal grandparent even after stratifying deaths only due to traumatic events.
We found maternal bereavement to be adversely associated with IQ in male offspring, which could be related to prenatal stress exposure though more likely is due to changes in family conditions after death of the father. This finding supports other literature on maternal adversity during fetal life and cognitive development in the offspring.
PMCID: PMC3928249  PMID: 24558394
2.  Early Life Disease Programming during the Preconception and Prenatal Period: Making the Link between Stressful Life Events and Type-1 Diabetes 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11523.
To assess the risk of developing Type-1 diabetes among children who were exposed to maternal bereavement during the prenatal or 1-year preconception period.
We identified N = 1,548,746 singleton births born in Denmark between January 1st 1979 through December 31st 2004, and their next of kin. Altogether, 39,857 children were exposed to bereavement during their prenatal life. The main outcome of interest was hospitalization for type-1 diabetes (ICD 8: 249; ICD 10: E10).
We found the strongest association for type-1 diabetes among children exposed to traumatic father or sibling deaths (aIRR: 2.03, 1.22–3.38); the association was mainly seen for girls (aIRR: 2.91, 1.61–5.26).
We found evidence to suggest that female fetuses exposed to severe prenatal stress are at increased risk for developing type-1 diabetes.
PMCID: PMC2901388  PMID: 20634978
3.  Antenatal maternal bereavement and childhood cancer in the offspring: a population-based cohort study in 6 million children 
British Journal of Cancer  2012;107(3):544-548.
Prenatal stress may increase the susceptibility to childhood cancer by affecting immune responses and hormonal balance. We examined whether antenatal stress following maternal bereavement increased the risk of childhood cancer.
All children born in Denmark from 1968 to 2007 (N=2 743 560) and in Sweden from 1973 to 2006 (N=3 400 212) were included in this study. We compared cancer risks in children born to women who lost a first-degree relative (a child, spouse, a parent, or a sibling) the year before pregnancy or during pregnancy with cancer risks in children of women who did not experience such bereavement.
A total of 9795 childhood cancer cases were observed during follow-up of 68 360 707 person years. Children born to women who lost a child or a spouse, but not those who lost other relatives, had an average 30% increased risk of any cancer (hazard ratio (HR) 1.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.96–1.77). The HRs were the highest for non-Hodgkin disease (512 cases in total, HR 3.40, 95% CI 1.51–7.65), hepatic cancer (125 cases in total, HR 5.51, 95% CI 1.34–22.64), and testicular cancer (86 cases in total, HR 8.52, 95% CI 2.03–37.73).
Our data suggest that severe antenatal stress following maternal bereavement, especially due to loss of a child or a spouse, is associated with an increased risk of certain childhood cancers in the offspring, such as hepatic cancer and non-Hodgkin disease, but not with childhood cancer in general.
PMCID: PMC3405225  PMID: 22759879
childhood cancer; bereavement; prenatal stress; mother; association
4.  Psychological Stress and Hospitalization for Childhood Asthma-a Nationwide Cohort Study in Two Nordic Countries 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e78816.
Exposures to psychological stress in early life may contribute to the development or exacerbation of asthma. We undertook a cohort study based on data from several population-based registers in Denmark and Sweden to examine whether bereavement in childhood led to increased asthma hospitalization.
All singleton children born in Denmark during 1977-2008 and in Sweden during 1973-2006 were included in the study (N=5,202,576). The children were followed from birth to the date of first asthma hospitalization, emigration, death, their 18th birthday, or the end of study (31 December 2007 in Sweden and 31 December 2008 in Denmark), whichever came first. All the children were assigned to the non-bereaved group until they lost a close relative (mother, father or a sibling), from when they were included in the bereaved group. We evaluated the hazard ratio (HR) of first hospitalization for asthma in bereaved children using Cox proportional hazards regression models, compared to those who were in the non-bereaved group. We also did a sub-analysis on the association between bereavement and first asthma medication.
A total of 147,829 children were hospitalized for asthma. The overall adjusted HR of asthma hospitalization in bereaved children was 1.10 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.04-1.16), compared to non-bereaved children. The risk of asthma hospitalization was increased in those who lost a close relative at age of 14-17 years (HR=1.54, 95% CI: 1.23-1.92), but not in younger age groups. The association between bereavement and asthma hospitalization did not change over time since bereavement. In the sub-analysis in singleton live births during 1996-2008 recorded in the DMBR, bereavement was associated with a lower use of asthma medication (HR=0.87, 95% CI: 0.80-0.95).
Our data suggests that psychological stress following bereavement in late adolescence is associated with an increased risk of asthma hospitalization or lowers the threshold for asthma hospitalization.
PMCID: PMC3808299  PMID: 24205324
5.  Prenatal Stress Exposure Related to Maternal Bereavement and Risk of Childhood Overweight 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11896.
It has been suggested that prenatal stress contributes to the risk of obesity later in life. In a population–based cohort study, we examined whether prenatal stress related to maternal bereavement during pregnancy was associated with the risk of overweight in offspring during school age.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We followed 65,212 children born in Denmark from 1970–1989 who underwent health examinations from 7 to 13 years of age in public or private schools in Copenhagen. We identified 459 children as exposed to prenatal stress, defined by being born to mothers who were bereaved by death of a close family member from one year before pregnancy until birth of the child. We compared the prevalence of overweight between the exposed and the unexposed. Body mass index (BMI) values and prevalence of overweight were higher in the exposed children, but not significantly so until from 10 years of age and onwards, as compared with the unexposed children. For example, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) for overweight was 1.68 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.08–2.61) at 12 years of age and 1.63 (95% CI 1.00–2.61) at 13 years of age. The highest ORs were observed when the death occurred in the period from 6 to 0 month before pregnancy (OR 3.31, 95% CI 1.71–6.42 at age 12, and OR 2.31, 95% CI 1.08–4.97 at age 13).
Our results suggest that severe pre-pregnancy stress is associated with an increased risk of overweight in the offspring in later childhood.
PMCID: PMC2912844  PMID: 20689593
6.  Maternal Bereavement and Childhood Asthma—Analyses in Two Large Samples of Swedish Children 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27202.
Prenatal factors such as prenatal psychological stress might influence the development of childhood asthma.
Methodology and Principal Findings
We assessed the association between maternal bereavement shortly before and during pregnancy, as a proxy for prenatal stress, and the risk of childhood asthma in the offspring, based on two samples of children 1–4 (n = 426 334) and 7–12 (n = 493 813) years assembled from the Swedish Medical Birth Register. Exposure was maternal bereavement of a close relative from one year before pregnancy to child birth. Asthma event was defined by a hospital contact for asthma or at least two dispenses of inhaled corticosteroids or montelukast. In the younger sample we calculated hazards ratios (HRs) of a first-ever asthma event using Cox models and in the older sample odds ratio (ORs) of an asthma attack during 12 months using logistic regression. Compared to unexposed boys, exposed boys seemed to have a weakly higher risk of first-ever asthma event at 1–4 years (HR: 1.09; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.98, 1.22) as well as an asthma attack during 12 months at 7–12 years (OR: 1.10; 95% CI: 0.96, 1.24). No association was suggested for girls. Boys exposed during the second trimester had a significantly higher risk of asthma event at 1–4 years (HR: 1.55; 95% CI: 1.19, 2.02) and asthma attack at 7–12 years if the bereavement was an older child (OR: 1.58; 95% CI: 1.11, 2.25). The associations tended to be stronger if the bereavement was due to a traumatic death compared to natural death, but the difference was not statistically significant.
Our results showed some evidence for a positive association between prenatal stress and childhood asthma among boys but not girls.
PMCID: PMC3210147  PMID: 22087265
7.  Long-Term Health Outcomes in Children Born to Mothers with Diabetes: A Population-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e36727.
To examine whether prenatal exposure to parental type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes is associated with an increased risk of malignant neoplasm or diseases of the circulatory system in the offspring.
Methods/Principal Findings
We conducted a population-based cohort study of 1,781,576 singletons born in Denmark from 1977 to 2008. Children were followed for up to 30 years from the day of birth until the onset of the outcomes under study, death, emigration, or December 31, 2009, whichever came first. We used Cox proportional hazards model to estimate hazard ratios (HR) with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) for the outcomes under study while adjusting for potential confounders. An increased risk of malignant neoplasm was found in children prenatally exposed to maternal type 2 diabetes (HR = 2.2, 95%CI: 1.5–3.2). An increased risk of diseases of the circulatory system was found in children exposed to maternal type 1 diabetes (HR = 2.2, 95%CI: 1.6–3.0), type 2 diabetes (HR = 1.4, 95%CI: 1.1–1.7), and gestational diabetes (HR = 1.3, 95%CI: 1.1–1.6), but results were attenuated after excluding children with congenital malformations. An increased risk of diseases of the circulatory system was also found in children exposed to paternal type 2 diabetes (HR = 1.5, 95%CI: 1.1–2.2) and the elevated risk remained after excluding children with congenital malformations.
This study suggests that susceptibility to malignant neoplasm is modified partly by fetal programming. Diseases of the circulatory system may be modified by genetic factors, other time-stable family factors, or fetal programming.
PMCID: PMC3359312  PMID: 22649497
8.  Prenatal Stress and Risk of Febrile Seizures in Children: A Nationwide Longitudinal Study in Denmark 
We aimed to examine whether exposure to prenatal stress following maternal bereavement is associated with an increased risk of febrile seizures. In a longitudinal population-based cohort study, we followed 1,431,175 children born in Denmark. A total of 34,777 children were born to women who lost a close relative during pregnancy or within 1 year before the pregnancy and they were included in the exposed group. The exposed children had a risk of febrile seizures similar to that of the unexposed children (hazard ratio (HR) 1.00, 95% CI 0.94–1.06). The HRs did not differ according to the nature or timing of bereavement. Our data do not suggest any causal link between exposure to prenatal stress and febrile seizures in childhood.
PMCID: PMC2694316  PMID: 19291382
Prenatal stress; Bereavement; Febrile seizures; Fetal programming; Longitudinal study
9.  Cortisol Response to Social Stress in Parentally Bereaved Youth 
Biological psychiatry  2012;73(4):379-387.
Parental bereavement is associated with increased risk for psychiatric illness and functional impairment in youth. Dysregulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning may be one pathway through which bereaved children experience increased risk for poor outcomes. However, few studies have prospectively examined the association between parental bereavement and cortisol response while accounting for psychiatric disorders in both youth and their caregivers.
One-hundred and eighty-one bereaved and nonbereaved offspring and their caregivers were assessed at multiple time points over a 5-year period after parental death. Offspring participated in an adaptation of the Trier Social Stress Task (TSST), and salivary cortisol samples were collected before and after exposure to social stressors. Mixed models for repeated measures were used to analyze the effects of bereavement status, psychiatric disorder in both offspring and caregiver, and demographic indices on trajectories of cortisol response.
After controlling for demographic variables and offspring depression, bereaved offspring demonstrated significantly different trajectories of cortisol response compared with nonbereaved offspring, characterized by higher total cortisol output and an absence of cortisol reactivity to acute social stress. Within the bereaved group, offspring of parents who died by sudden natural death demonstrated significant cortisol reactivity to social stress compared with offspring whose parents died by suicide, who demonstrated more blunted trajectory of cortisol response.
Parentally bereaved youth demonstrate higher cortisol output than nonbereaved youth but are less able to mount an acute response in the face of social stressors.
PMCID: PMC3789373  PMID: 23021533
Adolescent; bereavement; cortisol; depression; HPA axis; TSST
10.  Effect of Parental Bereavement on Health Risk Behaviors in Youth: A 3-Year Follow-up 
To examine the course of health risk behaviors (HRBs) during a 3-year period after a parent’s death in bereaved youth compared with nonbereaved youth (control subjects).
A longitudinal population-based study.
Bereaved families were recruited through coroner records and by advertisement. Control families were recruited using random-digit dialing and by advertisement.
Two hundred forty parentally bereaved offspring were compared with 183 nonbereaved control offspring.
Main Exposure
Sudden parental death due to accident, suicide, or sudden disease-related (natural) death.
Main Outcome Measures
The sum of the total number of HRBs at a clinically significant frequency threshold assessed 9, 21, and 33 months after the parent’s death.
The bereaved group showed a higher number of HRBs over time compared with the nonbereaved group (univariate effect sizes, 0.22–0.52; P<.04), even after taking into account correlates of bereavement and of HRBs, such as youth aggression, as well as antisocial and anxiety disorders of the deceased parent.
Parental bereavement is associated with higher HRBs in youth over time, even after controlling for other covariates associated with bereavement and HRBs. Clinicians should be aware that bereaved youth may be vulnerable to HRBs. Further work is warranted on interventions to attenuate the negative effect of bereavement on HRBs.
PMCID: PMC3739453  PMID: 22393180
11.  Severe bereavement stress during the prenatal and childhood periods and risk of psychosis in later life: population based cohort study 
Objective To examine the risk of psychosis associated with severe bereavement stress during the antenatal and postnatal period, between conception to adolescence, and with different causes of death.
Design Population based cohort study.
Setting Swedish national registers including births between 1973 and 1985 and followed-up to 2006.
Participants In a cohort of 1 045 336 Swedish births (1973-85), offspring born to mothers exposed to severe maternal bereavement stress six months before conception or during pregnancy, or exposed to loss of a close family member subsequently from birth to 13 years of age were followed until 2006. Admissions were identified by linkage to national patient registers.
Main outcome measures Crude and adjusted odds ratios for all psychosis, non-affective psychosis, and affective psychosis.
Results Maternal bereavement stress occurring preconception or during the prenatal period was not associated with a significant excess risk of psychosis in offspring (adjusted odds ratio, preconception 1.24, 95% confidence interval 0.96 to 1.62; first trimester 0.95, 0.58 to1.56; second trimester 0.79, 0.46 to 1.33; third trimester 1.14, 0.78 to 1.66). Risks increased modestly after exposure to the loss of a close family member from birth to adolescence for all psychoses (adjusted odds ratio 1.17, 1.04 to 1.32). The pattern of risk was generally similar for non-affective and affective psychosis. Thus estimates were higher after death in the nuclear compared with extended family but remained non-significant for prenatal exposure; the earlier the exposure to death in the nuclear family occurred in childhood (all psychoses: adjusted odds ratio, birth to 2.9 years 1.84, 1.41 to 2.41; 3-6.9 years 1.47, 1.16 to 1.85; 7-12.9 years 1.32, 1.10 to 1.58) and after suicide. Following suicide, risks were especially higher for affective psychosis (birth to 2.9 years 3.33, 2.00 to 5.56; 6.9 years 1.84, 1.04 to 3.25; 7-12.9 years 2.68, 1.84 to 3.92). Adjustment for key confounders attenuated but did not explain associations with risk.
Conclusions Postnatal but not prenatal bereavement stress in mothers is associated with an increased risk of psychosis in offspring. Risks are especially high for affective psychosis after suicide in the nuclear family, an effect that is not explained by family psychiatric history. Future studies are needed to understand possible sources of risk and resilience so that structures can be put in place to support vulnerable children and their families.
PMCID: PMC3898661  PMID: 24449616
12.  Association Between Prenatal Exposure to Bacterial Infection and Risk of Schizophrenia 
Schizophrenia Bulletin  2008;35(3):631-637.
Recent research suggests that prenatal exposure to nonviral infection may be associated with increased risk of schizophrenia, and we hypothesized an association between maternal bacterial infection during pregnancy and elevated offspring risk of schizophrenia. Data on maternal infections from the Copenhagen Perinatal Cohort were linked with the Danish National Psychiatric Register. Offspring cases of narrowly defined schizophrenia (International Classification of Diseases, Eighth Revision [ICD-8]) and more broadly defined schizophrenia (ICD-8 and ICD-10) were identified before the ages of 32–34 and 45–47 years, respectively. The effect of prenatal exposure to bacterial infections was adjusted for prenatal exposure to analgesics and parental social status. In a risk set of 7941 individuals, 85 cases (1.1%) of ICD-8 schizophrenia were identified by the age of 32–34 years and 153 cases (1.9%) of more broadly defined schizophrenia by the age of 45–47 years. First-trimester exposure conferred an elevated risk of ICD-8 schizophrenia (odds ratio 2.53; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.07–5.96) and also of broadly defined schizophrenia (odds ratio 2.14; 95% CI 1.06–4.31). Second-trimester exposure also conferred a significantly elevated risk of schizophrenia but only in unadjusted analyses. These findings suggest a relationship between maternal bacterial infection in pregnancy and offspring risk of schizophrenia, and this effect was somewhat stronger for ICD-8 schizophrenia with earlier onset. Post hoc analyses showed that upper respiratory tract and gonococcal infections were associated with elevated risk of the disease. An association between risk of schizophrenia and prenatal exposure to bacterial infections might be mediated through transplacental passage of maternally produced cytokines in response to bacterial infections.
PMCID: PMC2669577  PMID: 18832344
schizophrenia; bacterial infections; viral infections; prenatal infections
13.  Can negative life events and coping style help explain socioeconomic differences in perceived stress among adolescents? A cross-sectional study based on the West Jutland cohort study 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:532.
Previous research suggests that perceived stress in adolescence is socially patterned, but that this relationship may depend on the measure of socioeconomic status (SES) used. This study examines if social gradients in perceived stress, negative life events, and coping exist amongst Danish adolescents, and, if life events and coping strategies can partly account for an association between SES and perceived stress. These relationships are studied separately for two different measures of SES.
Questionnaire data were collected from 3054 14–15 year old youths (83% response rate) during baseline measurement in the West Jutland birth cohort study. Parents were identified via the Central Office of Civil Registration in which the respondents are linked to their parents or guardians via their CPR-number, a personal identification number given to everyone in Denmark. The study employs data from two independent sources, adolescent self-report data (stress, life events and coping) and national registers (parental educational level, household income and confounder variables). Ordinary Least Squares regression estimated the effects of parental SES, negative life events and coping on perceived stress. Analyses were stratified by gender.
Girls reported more perceived stress than boys. SES accounted for a small but significant amount of the variance in perceived stress. Lower parental education and lower household income were associated with higher stress levels irrespective of gender, but the social gradient was strongest amongst girls when parents’ education was used to measure SES, and strongest for boys when income was used. Life events and coping were also found to be associated with SES and both mediated part of the SES-perceived stress relationship. In general, the social gradient in perceived stress was accounted for by the study variables to a higher degree among girls than among boys.
Lower parental education and household income are associated with higher levels of perceived stress amongst Danish adolescents. Furthermore, both life events and coping appear to mediate this relation. Gender differences in the ways SES and stress are related may exist.
PMCID: PMC3679909  PMID: 23724872
Social gradient; Perceived stress; Life events; Coping; Adolescence
14.  Early life bereavement and childhood cancer: a nationwide follow-up study in two countries 
BMJ Open  2013;3(5):e002864.
Childhood cancer is a leading cause of child deaths in affluent countries, but little is known about its aetiology. Psychological stress has been suggested to be associated with cancer in adults; whether this is also seen in childhood cancer is largely unknown. We investigated the association between bereavement as an indicator of severe childhood stress exposure and childhood cancer, using data from Danish and Swedish national registers.
Population-based cohort study.
Denmark and Sweden.
All live-born children born in Denmark between 1968 and 2007 (n=2 729 308) and in Sweden between 1973 and 2006 (n=3 395 166) were included in this study. Exposure was bereavement by the death of a close relative before 15 years of age. Follow-up started from birth and ended at the first of the following: date of a cancer diagnosis, death, emigration, day before their 15th birthday or end of follow-up (2007 in Denmark, 2006 in Sweden).
Outcome measures
Rates and HRs for all childhood cancers and specific childhood cancers.
A total of 1 505 938 (24.5%) children experienced bereavement at some point during their childhood and 9823 were diagnosed with cancer before the age of 15 years. The exposed children had a small (10%) increased risk of childhood cancer (HR 1.10; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.17). For specific cancers, a significant association was seen only for central nervous system tumours (HR 1.14; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.28).
Our data suggest that psychological stress in early life is associated with a small increased risk of childhood cancer.
PMCID: PMC3664350  PMID: 23793702
Childhood cancer; bereavement; psychological stress; risk factor; follow up
15.  Prenatal exposure to stressful life events is associated with masculinized anogenital distance (AGD) in female infants 
Physiology & behavior  2013;0:14-20.
In animal models, prenatal stress programs reproductive development in the resulting offspring, however little is known about effects in humans. Anogenital distance (AGD) is a commonly used, sexually dimorphic biomarker of prenatal androgen exposure in many species. In rodents, prenatally stressed males have shorter AGD than controls (suggesting lower prenatal androgen exposure), whereas prenatally stressed females have longer AGD than controls (suggesting greater prenatal androgen exposure). Our objective was to investigate the relationship between stressful life events in pregnancy and infant AGD. In a prospective cohort study, pregnant women and their partners reported exposure to stressful life events during pregnancy. Pregnancies in which the couple reported 4+ life events were considered highly stressed. After birth (average 16.5 months), trained examiners measured AGD in the infants (137 males, 136 females). After adjusting for age, body size and other covariates, females born to couples reporting high stress had significantly longer (i.e. more masculine) AGD than females born to couples reporting low stress (p=0.015). Among males, high stress was weakly, but not significantly, associated with shorter AGD. Our results suggest prenatal stress may masculinize some aspects of female reproductive development in humans. More sensitive measures of prenatal stress and additional measures of reproductive development are needed to better understand these relationships and clarify mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3650607  PMID: 23499769
16.  Maternal Use of Antibiotics, Hospitalisation for Infection during Pregnancy, and Risk of Childhood Epilepsy: A Population-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e30850.
Maternal infection during pregnancy may be a risk factor for epilepsy in offspring. Use of antibiotics is a valid marker of infection.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To examine the relationship between maternal infection during pregnancy and risk of childhood epilepsy we conducted a historical cohort study of singletons born in northern Denmark from 1998 through 2008 who survived ≥29 days. We used population-based medical databases to ascertain maternal use of antibiotics or hospital contacts with infection during pregnancy, as well as first-time hospital contacts with a diagnosis of epilepsy among offspring. We compared incidence rates (IR) of epilepsy among children of mothers with and without infection during pregnancy. We examined the outcome according to trimester of exposure, type of antibiotic, and total number of prescriptions, using Poisson regression to estimate incidence rate ratios (IRRs) while adjusting for covariates. Among 191 383 children in the cohort, 948 (0.5%) were hospitalised or had an outpatient visit for epilepsy during follow-up, yielding an IR of 91 per 100 000 person-years (PY). The five-year cumulative incidence of epilepsy was 4.5 per 1000 children. Among children exposed prenatally to maternal infection, the IR was 117 per 100 000 PY, with an adjusted IRR of 1.40 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.22–1.61), compared with unexposed children. The association was unaffected by trimester of exposure, antibiotic type, or prescription count.
Prenatal exposure to maternal infection is associated with an increased risk of epilepsy in childhood. The similarity of estimates across types of antibiotics suggests that processes common to all infections underlie this outcome, rather than specific pathogens or drugs.
PMCID: PMC3266299  PMID: 22295115
17.  The influence of early exposure to vitamin D for development of diseases later in life 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:515.
Vitamin D deficiency is common among otherwise healthy pregnant women and may have consequences for them as well as the early development and long-term health of their children. However, the importance of maternal vitamin D status on offspring health later in life has not been widely studied. The present study includes an in-depth examination of the influence of exposure to vitamin D early in life for development of fractures of the wrist, arm and clavicle; obesity, and type 1 diabetes (T1D) during child- and adulthood.
The study is based on the fact that in 1961 fortifying margarine with vitamin D became mandatory in Denmark and in 1972 low fat milk fortification was allowed. Apart from determining the influences of exposure prior to conception and during prenatal life, we will examine the importance of vitamin D exposure during specific seasons and trimesters, by comparing disease incidence among individuals born before and after fortification. The Danish National databases assure that there are a sufficient number of individuals to verify any vitamin D effects during different gestation phases. Additionally, a validated method will be used to determine neonatal vitamin D status using stored dried blood spots (DBS) from individuals who developed the aforementioned disease entities as adults and their time and gender-matched controls.
The results of the study will contribute to our current understanding of the significance of supplementation with vitamin D. More specifically, they will enable new research in related fields, including interventional research designed to assess supplementation needs for different subgroups of pregnant women. Also, other health outcomes can subsequently be studied to generate multiple health research opportunities involving vitamin D. Finally, the results of the study will justify the debate of Danish health authorities whether to resume vitamin D supplementation policies.
PMCID: PMC3672018  PMID: 23714352
Vitamin D; Food fortification; Prenatal exposure; Prevention; Type 1 diabetes; Obesity; Fractures
18.  Epigenetic Effects of Prenatal Stress on 11β-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase-2 in the Placenta and Fetal Brain 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e39791.
Maternal exposure to stress during pregnancy is associated with significant alterations in offspring neurodevelopment and elevated maternal glucocorticoids likely play a central role in mediating these effects. Placental 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (HSD11B2) buffers the impact of maternal glucocorticoid exposure by converting cortisol/corticosterone into inactive metabolites. However, previous studies indicate that maternal adversity during the prenatal period can lead to a down-regulation of this enzyme. In the current study, we examined the impact of prenatal stress (chronic restraint stress during gestational days 14–20) in Long Evans rats on HSD11B2 mRNA in the placenta and fetal brain (E20) and assessed the role of epigenetic mechanisms in these stress-induced effects. In the placenta, prenatal stress was associated with a significant decrease in HSD11B2 mRNA, increased mRNA levels of the DNA methyltransferase DNMT3a, and increased DNA methylation at specific CpG sites within the HSD11B2 gene promoter. Within the fetal hypothalamus, though we find no stress-induced effects on HSD11B2 mRNA levels, prenatal stress induced decreased CpG methylation within the HSD11B2 promoter and increased methylation at sites within exon 1. Within the fetal cortex, HSD11B2 mRNA and DNA methylation levels were not altered by prenatal stress, though we did find stress-induced elevations in DNMT1 mRNA in this brain region. Within individuals, we identified CpG sites within the HSD11B2 gene promoter and exon 1 at which DNA methylation levels were highly correlated between the placenta and fetal cortex. Overall, our findings implicate DNA methylation as a mechanism by which prenatal stress alters HSD11B2 gene expression. These findings highlight the tissue specificity of epigenetic effects, but also raise the intriguing possibility of using the epigenetic status of placenta to predict corresponding changes in the brain.
PMCID: PMC3383683  PMID: 22761903
19.  The Association between Prenatal Psychosocial Stress and Blood Pressure in the Child at Age 5–7 Years 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43548.
Prenatal maternal stress could have permanent effects on the offspring’s tissue structure and function, which may predispose to cardiovascular diseases. We investigated whether maternal psychosocial stress is a prenatal factor affecting the blood pressure (BP) of offspring.
Study Design
In the Amsterdam Born Children and their Development (ABCD) study, around gestational week 16, depressive symptoms, state-anxiety, pregnancy-related anxiety, parenting daily hassles and job strain were recorded by questionnaire. A cumulative stress score was also calculated (based on 80th percentiles). Systolic and diastolic BP and mean arterial pressure (MAP) were measured in the offspring at age 5–7 years. Inclusion criteria were: no use of antihypertensive medication during pregnancy; singleton birth; no reported cardiovascular problems in the child (N = 2968 included).
After adjustment for confounders, the single stress scales were not associated with systolic and diastolic BP, MAP and hypertension (p>0.05). The presence of 3–4 psychosocial stressors prenatally (4%) was associated with 1.5 mmHg higher systolic and diastolic BP (p = 0.046; p = 0.04) and 1.5 mmHg higher MAP in the offspring (p = 0.02) compared to no stressors (46%). The presence of 3–4 stressors did not significantly increase the risk for hypertension (OR 1.8; 95% CI 0.93.4). Associations did not differ between sexes. Bonferroni correction for multiple testing rendered all associations non-significant.
The presence of multiple psychosocial stressors during pregnancy was associated with higher systolic and diastolic BP and MAP in the child at age 5–7. Further investigation of maternal prenatal stress may be valuable for later life cardiovascular health.
PMCID: PMC3424234  PMID: 22927987
20.  Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Parents of HIV-infected Individuals: a population-based Cohort Study 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2010;10:169.
Previous studies have indicated an increased risk of myocardial infarction (MI) in HIV infected individuals especially after start of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). It is however controversial whether the increased risk of atherosclerotic disease is exclusively associated with the HIV disease and HAART or whether life-style related or genetic factors also increase the risk in this population. To establish whether the increased risk of myocardial infarction in HIV patients partly reflects an increased risk of MI in their families, we estimated the relative risk of MI in parents of HIV-infected individuals.
From the Danish HIV Cohort Study and the Danish Civil Registration System we identified the parents of all HIV-infected patients born in Denmark after 1952 in whom a Danish born mother was identifiable. For each HIV patient, 4 matched population controls and their parents were identified. Cumulative incidence functions were constructed to illustrate time to first MI of the parents as registered in the Danish National Hospital Registry. Incidence rate ratios (IRR) were estimated by Cox's regression analyses. Due to the confidential type of the analysed data the study was approved by the Danish Data Protection Agency.
2,269 mothers and 2,022 fathers of HIV patients as well as 9,076 mothers and 8,460 fathers of control subjects were identified. We observed an increased risk of MI in mothers of HIV patients (adjusted IRR, 1.31; 95% CI: 1.08-1.60). The strongest association was seen in case the offspring was infected heterosexually (adjusted IRR, 1.59; 95% CI: 1.07-2.35) or by IV drug abuse (IVD) (adjusted IRR, 1.63; 95% CI: 1.02-2.60). In fathers of HIV patients the risk of MI was only increased if the offspring was infected by IVD (adjusted IRR, 1.42; 95% CI: 1.01-2.00).
Mothers of HIV-infected patients have an increased risk of MI. We presume that this stems from family related life style risk factors, some of which may also influence the risk of MI in HIV-infected patients.
PMCID: PMC2909236  PMID: 20546604
21.  Association Between Prepartum Maternal Iron Deficiency and Offspring Risk of Schizophrenia: Population-Based Cohort Study With Linkage of Danish National Registers 
Schizophrenia Bulletin  2010;37(5):982-987.
Recent findings suggest that maternal iron deficiency may increase the risk of schizophrenia-spectrum disorder in offspring. We initiated this study to determine whether maternal prepartum anemia influences offspring risk of schizophrenia. We conducted a population-based study with individual record linkage of the Danish Civil Registration System, the Danish Psychiatric Central Register, and the Danish National Hospital Register. In a cohort of 1 115 752 Danish singleton births from 1978 to 1998, cohort members were considered as having a maternal history of anemia if the mother had received a diagnosis of anemia at any time during the pregnancy. Cohort members were followed from their 10th birthday until onset of schizophrenia, death, or December 31, 2008, whichever came first. Adjusted for relevant confounders, cohort members whose mothers had received a diagnosis of anemia during pregnancy had a 1.60-fold (95% confidence interval = 1.16–2.15) increased risk of schizophrenia. Although the underlying mechanisms are unknown and independent replication is needed, our findings suggest that maternal iron deficiency increases offspring risk of schizophrenia.
PMCID: PMC3160221  PMID: 20093425
Schizophrenia; epidemiology; risk factor; Denmark; maternal iron deficiency; follow-up; cohort
22.  Type 2 diabetes in grandparents and birth weight in offspring and grandchildren in the ALSPAC study 
Objective: To examine the association between a history of type 2 diabetes and birth weight of offspring and grandchildren.
Design: Prospective observational study. Diabetic status, as reported by mothers (F1 generation) was collected on grandparents (F0) of babies (F2) born to mothers (F1) who participated in a study of maternal and child health. Associations between risk of grandparental diabetes and birth weight in mothers (F1) and grandchildren (F2) were analysed using linear and logistic regression.
Setting: Avon: comprising of the city of Bristol and surrounding areas.
Participants: 12 076 singleton babies (F2), their parents (F1) and maternal and paternal grandparents (F0).
Results: Women (F1) who had no parents with type 2 diabetes had lower birth weights than women with one or two diabetic parents, after controlling for the age of both parents. There was a U shaped association between maternal birth weight and grandmaternal diabetes, but no evidence of an association with grandpaternal diabetes. The grandchildren of maternal grandparents with type 2 diabetes were more likely to be in the top tertile of birth weight than grandchildren of non-diabetics. There was evidence for an inverted U shaped association between birth weight of grandchildren and diabetes in paternal grandmothers.
Conclusions: This is the first study to show intergenerational associations between type 2 diabetes in one generation and birth weight in the subsequent two generations. While the study has limitations mainly because of missing data, the findings nevertheless provide some support for the role of developmental intrauterine effects and genetically determined insulin resistance in impaired insulin mediated growth in the fetus.
PMCID: PMC1732784  PMID: 15143122
23.  Antidepressant exposure in pregnancy and risk of autism spectrum disorders 
Clinical Epidemiology  2013;5:449-459.
Both the use of antidepressant medication during pregnancy and the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder have increased during recent years. A causal link has recently been suggested, but the association may be confounded by the underlying indication for antidepressant use. We investigated the association between maternal use of antidepressant medication in pregnancy and autism, controlling for potential confounding factors.
We identified all children born alive in Denmark 1996–2006 (n=668,468) and their parents in the Danish Civil Registration System. We obtained information on the mother’s prescriptions filled during pregnancy from the Danish National Prescription Registry, and on diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders in the children and diagnoses of psychiatric disorders in the parents from the Danish Psychiatric Central Register. In a cohort analysis, we estimated hazard ratios of autism spectrum disorders in children exposed to antidepressant medication during pregnancy compared with children who were not exposed, using Cox proportional hazards regression analysis. Furthermore, we estimated the risk for autism spectrum disorder in a sibling design.
Children exposed prenatally to antidepressants had an adjusted hazard ratio of 1.5 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.2–1.9) for autism spectrum disorder compared with unexposed children. Restricting the analysis to children of women with a diagnosis of affective disorder, the adjusted hazard ratio was 1.2 (95% CI 0.7–2.1), and the risk was further reduced when exposed children were compared with their unexposed siblings (adjusted hazard ratio 1.1; 95% CI 0.5–2.3).
After controlling for important confounding factors, there was no significant association between prenatal exposure to antidepressant medication and autism spectrum disorders in the offspring.
PMCID: PMC3832387  PMID: 24255601
antidepressants; depression; autism; autism spectrum disorder; childhood autism; pregnancy
24.  Infant and childhood neurodevelopmental outcomes following prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: overview and design of a Finnish Register-Based Study (FinESSI) 
BMC Psychiatry  2012;12:217.
Experimental animal studies and one population-based study have suggested an increased risk for adverse neurodevelopmental outcome after prenatal exposure to SSRIs. We describe the methods and design of a population-based study examining the association between prenatal SSRI exposure and neurodevelopment until age 14.
Methods and design
This is a cohort study of national registers in Finland: the Medical Birth Register, the Register of Congenital Malformations, the Hospital Discharge Register including inpatient and outpatient data, the Drug Reimbursement Register, and the Population Register. The total study population includes 845,345 women and their live-born, singleton offspring aged 14 or younger and born during Jan 1st 1996-Dec 31st 2010. We will compare the prevalence of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental outcomes in offspring exposed prenatally to SSRIs to offspring exposed to prenatal depression and unexposed to SSRIs. Associations between exposure and outcome are assessed by statistical methods including specific modeling to account for correlated outcomes within families and differences in duration of follow-up between the exposure groups. Descriptive results. Of all pregnant women with pregnancy ending in delivery (n = 859,359), 1.9% used SSRIs. The prevalence of diagnosed depression and depression-related psychiatric disorders within one year before or during pregnancy was 1.7%. The cumulative incidence of registered psychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorders was 6.9% in 2010 among all offspring born during the study period (age range 0–14 years).
The study has the potential for significant public health importance in providing information on prenatal exposure to SSRIs and long-term neurodevelopment.
PMCID: PMC3564781  PMID: 23206294
SSRI; Pregnancy; Neurodevelopment
25.  Do intrauterine or genetic influences explain the foetal origins of chronic disease? A novel experimental method for disentangling effects 
There is much evidence to suggest that risk for common clinical disorders begins in foetal life. Exposure to environmental risk factors however is often not random. Many commonly used indices of prenatal adversity (e.g. maternal gestational stress, gestational diabetes, smoking in pregnancy) are influenced by maternal genes and genetically influenced maternal behaviour. As mother provides the baby with both genes and prenatal environment, associations between prenatal risk factors and offspring disease maybe attributable to true prenatal risk effects or to the "confounding" effects of genetic liability that are shared by mother and offspring. Cross-fostering designs, including those that involve embryo transfer have proved useful in animal studies. However disentangling these effects in humans poses significant problems for traditional genetic epidemiological research designs.
We present a novel research strategy aimed at disentangling maternally provided pre-natal environmental and inherited genetic effects. Families of children aged 5 to 9 years born by assisted reproductive technologies, specifically homologous IVF, sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation and gestational surrogacy were contacted through fertility clinics and mailed a package of questionnaires on health and mental health related risk factors and outcomes. Further data were obtained from antenatal records.
To date 741 families from 18 fertility clinics have participated. The degree of association between maternally provided prenatal risk factor and child outcome in the group of families where the woman undergoing pregnancy and offspring are genetically related (homologous IVF, sperm donation) is compared to association in the group where offspring are genetically unrelated to the woman who undergoes the pregnancy (egg donation, embryo donation, surrogacy). These comparisons can be then examined to infer the extent to which prenatal effects are genetically and environmentally mediated.
A study based on children born by IVF treatment and who differ in genetic relatedness to the woman undergoing the pregnancy is feasible. The present report outlines a novel experimental method that permits disaggregation of maternally provided inherited genetic and post-implantation prenatal effects.
PMCID: PMC1913535  PMID: 17587444

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