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1.  A Prospective Cohort Study of the Prevalence of Growth, Facial, and Central Nervous System Abnormalities in Children with Heavy Prenatal Alcohol Exposure 
Most children who are exposed to large quantities of alcohol in utero do not develop fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Population-based prospective data on the risk of developing components of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), however, are limited.
This was a prospective cohort study of 9,628 women screened during their first prenatal appointment in Chile, which identified 101 who consumed at least 4 drinks/d (exposed) matched with 101 women with no reported alcohol consumption during pregnancy (unexposed). Detailed alcohol consumption data were collected during the pregnancy. Children were evaluated up to 8.5 years of age by clinicians masked to exposure status.
One or more functional central nervous system abnormalities were present in 44.0% (22/50) of the exposed children compared to 13.6% (6/44) of the unexposed (p = 0.002). Growth restriction was present in 27.2% (25/92) of the exposed and 12.5% (12/96) of the unexposed (p = 0.02). Abnormal facial features were present in 17.3% (14/81) of the exposed children compared to 1.1% (1/89) of the unexposed children (p = 0.0002) by direct examination. Of the 59 exposed children with data available to detect at least 1 abnormality, 12 (20.3%) had no abnormalities. Binge drinking from conception to recognition of pregnancy (OR = 1.48 per day, 95% CI: 1.15 to 1.91, p = 0.002) and after recognition of pregnancy (OR= 1.41 per day, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.95, p = 0.04) and total number of drinks consumed per week from conception to recognition of pregnancy (OR = 1.02 per drink, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.04, p = 0.0009) were significantly associated with abnormal child outcome.
After exposure to heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy, 80% of children had 1 or more abnormalities associated with alcohol exposure. Patterns of alcohol use that posed the greatest risk of adverse outcomes were binge drinking and high total weekly intake. Functional neurologic impairment occurred most frequently and may be the only sign to alert physicians to prenatal alcohol exposure.
PMCID: PMC4162305  PMID: 22823161
Alcohol; Pregnancy; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders; Growth Restriction; Neurodevelopment
2.  Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure and risk of stillbirth and preterm delivery 
We prospectively identified 96 women consuming at least 4 drinks/day during pregnancy by screening 9628 pregnant women. In these women with heavy prenatal alcohol use, there were three stillbirths and one preterm delivery; 98 matched nondrinking women had no stillbirths and two preterm births. Preterm rates did not differ significantly. The stillbirth rate was higher in the exposed group (p = 0.06). Additional investigation showed the stillbirth rate in the exposed population (3.1%) was significantly higher (p = 0.019) than the reported Chilean population rate (0.45%). Our data suggest that heavy alcohol consumption may increase the risk for stillbirth but not preterm delivery.
PMCID: PMC4148070  PMID: 21728738
alcohol; pregnancy; stillbirth; preterm delivery; binge drinking
3.  Anorectal atresia and variants at predicted regulatory sites in candidate genes 
Annals of human genetics  2012;77(1):31-46.
Anorectal atresia is a serious birth defect of largely unknown etiology but candidate genes have been identified in animal studies and human syndromes. Because alterations in the activity of these genes might lead to anorectal atresia, we selected 71 common variants predicted to be in transcription factor binding sites, CpG windows, splice sites, and miRNA target sites of 25 candidate genes, and tested for their association with anorectal atresia. The study population comprised 150 anorectal atresia cases and 623 control infants without major malformations. Variants predicted to affect transcription factor binding, splicing, and DNA methylation in WNT3A, PCSK5, TCF4, MKKS, GLI2, HOXD12, and BMP4 were associated with anorectal atresia based on a nominal P value <0.05. The GLI2 and BMP4 variants are reported to be moderately associated with gene expression changes (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients between −0.260 and 0.226). We did not find evidence for interaction between maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and variants in MKKS, a gene previously associated with obesity, on the risk of anorectal atresia. Our results for MKKS support previously suggested associations with anorectal malformations. Our findings suggest that more research is needed to determine whether altered GLI2 and BMP4 expression is important in anorectal atresia in humans.
PMCID: PMC3535506  PMID: 23127126
anorectal malformations; imperforate anus; hindgut; congenital abnormalities
4.  Hirschsprung’s disease and variants in genes that regulate enteric neural crest cell proliferation, migration and differentiation 
Journal of human genetics  2012;57(8):485-493.
Hirschsprung’s disease (HSCR) results from failed colonization of the embryonic gut by enteric neural crest cells (ENCCs); colonization requires RET proto-oncogene (RET) signaling. We sequenced RET to identify coding and splice-site variants in a population-based case group and we tested for associations between HSCR and common variants in RET and candidate genes (ASCL1, HOXB5, L1CAM, PHOX2B, PROK1, PROKR1) chosen because they are involved in ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation in animal models. We conducted a nested case-control study of 304 HSCR cases and 1 215 controls. Among 38 (12.5%) cases with 34 RET coding and splice-site variants, 18 variants were previously unreported. We confirmed associations with common variants in HOXB5 and PHOX2B but the associations with variants in ASCL1, L1CAM, and PROK1 were not significant after multiple comparisons adjustment. RET variants were strongly associated with HSCR (P values between 10−3 and 10−31) but this differed by race/ethnicity: associations were absent in African-Americans. Our population-based study not only identified novel RET variants in HSCR cases, it showed that common RET variants may not contribute to HSCR in all race/ethnic groups. The findings for HOXB5 and PHOX2B provide supportive evidence that genes regulating ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation could be risk factors for HSCR.
PMCID: PMC3503526  PMID: 22648184
congenital abnormalities; enteric nervous system; Hirschsprung disease; RET
5.  Evaluation of 64 Candidate Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Neural Tube Defects in a Large Irish Study Population 
Individual studies of the genetics of neural tube defects (NTDs) contain results on a small number of genes in each report. To identify genetic risk factors for NTDs, we evaluated potentially functional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are biologically plausible risk factors for NTDs but that have never been investigated for an association with NTDs, examined SNPs that previously showed no association with NTDs in published studies, and tried to confirm previously reported associations in folate-related and non-folate-related genes. We investigated 64 SNPs in 34 genes for association with spina bifida in up to 558 case-families (520 cases, 507 mothers, 457 fathers) and 994 controls in Ireland. Case-control and mother-control comparisons of genotype frequencies, tests of transmission disequilibrium, and log-linear regression models were used to calculate effect estimates. Spina bifida was associated with over-transmission of the LEPR (leptin receptor) rs1805134 minor C allele (genotype relative risk (GRR): 1.5; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.0, 2.1; P = 0.0264) and the COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase) rs737865 major T allele (GRR: 1.4; 95% CI: 1.1, 2.0; P = 0.0206). After correcting for multiple comparisons, these individual test P-values exceeded 0.05. Consistent with previous reports, spina bifida was associated with MTHFR 677C>T, T (Brachyury) rs3127334, LEPR K109R, and PDGFRA promoter haplotype combinations. The associations between LEPR SNPs and spina bifida suggest a possible mechanism for the finding that obesity is a NTD risk factor. The association between a variant in COMT and spina bifida implicates methylation and epigenetics in NTDs.
PMCID: PMC3503244  PMID: 21204206
congenital abnormalities; folic acid; neural tube defects; single nucleotide polymorphism; spina bifida
6.  Testing reported associations of genetic risk factors for oral clefts in a large Irish study population 
Suggestive, but not conclusive, studies implicate many genetic variants in oral cleft etiology. We used a large, ethnically homogenous study population to test whether reported associations between nonsyndromic oral clefts and 12 genes (CLPTM1, CRISPLD2, FGFR2, GABRB3, GLI2, IRF6, PTCH1, RARA, RYK, SATB2, SUMO1, TGFA) could be confirmed.
Thirty-one single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in exons, splice sites, and conserved non-coding regions were studied in 509 patients with cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP), 383 with cleft palate only (CP), 838 mothers and 719 fathers of patients with oral clefts, and 902 controls from Ireland. Case-control and family-based statistical tests were performed using isolated oral clefts for the main analyses.
In case-control comparisons, the minor allele of PTCH1 A562A (rs2066836) was associated with reduced odds of CLP (OR: 0.29, 95% CI: 0.13–0.64 for homozygotes) whereas the minor allele of PTCH1 L1315P (rs357564) was associated with increased odds of CLP (OR: 1.36, 95% CI: 1.07–1.74 for heterozygotes and OR: 1.56, 95% CI: 1.09–2.24 for homozygotes). The minor allele of one SUMO1 SNP, rs3769817 located in intron 2, was associated with increased odds of CP (OR: 1.45, 95% CI: 1.06–1.99 for heterozygotes). Transmission disequilibrium was observed for the minor allele of TGFA V159V (rs2166975) which was over-transmitted to CP cases (P=0.041).
For 10 of the 12 genes, this is the largest candidate gene study of nonsyndromic oral clefts to date. The findings provide further evidence that PTCH1, SUMO1, and TGFA contribute to nonsyndromic oral clefts.
PMCID: PMC3503531  PMID: 19937600
cleft lip; cleft palate; congenital abnormalities
7.  Effects of Prenatal Ethanol Exposure on Postnatal Growth and the Insulin-Like Growth Factor Axis 
Hormone Research in Pædiatrics  2010;75(3):166-173.
To study the effect of in-utero alcohol exposure on the insulin-like growth factor axis (IGF) and leptin during infancy and childhood, considering that exposed children may exhibit pre- and postnatal growth retardation.
We prospectively identified heavily drinking pregnant women who consumed on average 4 or more drinks of ethanol per day (≥48 g/day) and assessed growth in 69 of their offspring and an unexposed control group of 83 children, measuring serum IGF-I (radioimmunoassay), IGF-II (immunoradiometric assay, IRMA), insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 3 (IGFBP-3) (IRMA) and leptin (IRMA) at 1 month and 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 years of age.
IGF-II levels increased with age in both groups, but the rate of increase was significantly higher in exposed children, and levels were significantly higher in ethanol-exposed children at 3, 4, and 5 years of age. In exposed children, IGF-I levels were higher at 3 and 4 years and leptin levels were significantly lower at 1 and 2 years. Exposed subjects showed a much lower correlation between IGF-I and growth parameters than unexposed subjects.
Exposure to ethanol during pregnancy increases IGF-I and IGF-II and decreases leptin during early childhood. The increase in serum IGF-II concentrations in ethanol-exposed children suggests that this hormone should be explored as a potential marker for prenatal alcohol exposure.
PMCID: PMC3068754  PMID: 20847545
Fetal alcohol syndrome; Pregnancy; Alcohol abuse; Insulin-like growth factor I; Insulin-like growth factor II
The precise pathway by which alcohol causes the characteristic features of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is unknown. Proposed mechanisms for fetal injury from maternal alcohol use include cellular damage from oxidative stress and impaired fetal oxygenation related to maternal systemic vasoconstriction. Our objective was to compare levels of urinary markers of oxidative stress and systemic vasoconstriction between women consuming large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy and women who did not drink alcohol during pregnancy.
Pregnant women consuming ≥ 48g alcohol/day (n=29) on average and pregnant women who abstained from alcohol use (n=39) were identified using detailed interviews and home visits. Random maternal urine specimens were collected. Urinary levels of the oxidative stress marker, 8-isoprostane F2α, and of the vasoactive prostaglandin metabolites, 2,3-dinor-6-keto-prostaglandin F1α (a vasodilator) and 11-dehydro-thromboxane B2 (a vasoconstrictor), were measured using mass spectrometric methods. All analyte levels were corrected for urinary creatinine.
In crude analyses, there was no significant difference in 8-isoprostane F2α between pregnant drinkers and nondrinkers (2.16 vs. 2.08 ng/mg creatinine respectively, P=.87). There were no significant differences between the drinking and non-drinking groups in levels of 2,3-dinor-6-keto-prostaglandin F1α (1.03 vs. 1.17 ng/mg creatinine repectively, P=.50), 11-dehydro-thromboxane B2 (0.72 vs. 0.59 ng/mg creatinine respectively, P=.21), or the ratio of vasodilatory metabolite to vasoconstrictive metabolite (1.73 vs. 2.72 respectively, P=.14). Adjusting for maternal age, marital status, smoking, and gestational age at sampling did not substantially alter the results.
Our results show no difference in levels of urinary eicosanoid markers of oxidative stress and systemic vasoconstriction between pregnant women who drink heavily and pregnant women who abstain. These findings speak against a role for maternal oxidative stress or systemic vasoconstriction in the pathogenesis of alcohol damage to the fetus.
PMCID: PMC2615682  PMID: 18715278
Alcohol; Pregnancy; Isoprostanes; Prostacyclin; Thromboxane; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
9.  Folate-Related Gene Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate 
Cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP) and cleft palate only (CPO) have an inherited component and, many studies suggest, a relationship with folate. Attempts to find folate-related genes associated with clefts have, however, often been inconclusive. This study examined four SNPs related to folate metabolism (MTHFR 677 C→T, MTHFR 1298 A→C, MTHFD1 1958 G→A, and TC II 776 C→G) in a large Irish population to clarify their relationship with clefts.
Cases and their parents were recruited from major surgical centers performing cleft repairs in Ireland and a support organization. Data on risk factors, medical history, and DNA were collected. Controls were pregnant women from the greater Dublin area (n = 1,599).
CLP cases numbered 536 and CPO cases 426 after exclusions. CPO mothers were significantly more likely than controls to be MTHFR 677 TT, OR 1.50 (95% CI: 1.05–2.16; p = .03). Log-linear analysis showed a borderline association (p = .07). Isolated CPO case mothers were significantly more likely than controls to be homozygous for the MTHFD1 1958 G→A variant, OR 1.50 (95%CI: 1.08–2.09; p = .02). When multiple cases were added, both CPO cases and case mothers were significantly more likely to be AA (p = .02 and p = .007, respectively). The CLP case-control and mother-control analyses also showed significant effects, ORs 1.38 (95% CI: 1.05–1.82; p = .03) and 1.39 (95% CI: 1.04–1.85; p = .03), respectively.
Associations were found for both CPO and CLP and MTHFD1 1958 G→A in cases and case mothers. MTHFR 677 C→T could be a maternal risk factor for clefts but the association was not strong. Because multiple comparisons were made, these findings require additional investigation. Given the known association between MTHFD1 1958 G→A and NTDs, these findings should be explored in more detail.
PMCID: PMC2670560  PMID: 18661527
cleft lip; cleft palate; oral clefts; folate; folate genes; vitamin B12; transcobalamin gene

Results 1-9 (9)