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1.  Effects of Prenatal Ethanol Exposure on Postnatal Growth and the Insulin-Like Growth Factor Axis 
Hormone Research in Pædiatrics  2010;75(3):166-173.
Aims
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.
Methods
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.
Results
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.
Conclusion
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.
doi:10.1159/000319706
PMCID: PMC3068754  PMID: 20847545
Fetal alcohol syndrome; Pregnancy; Alcohol abuse; Insulin-like growth factor I; Insulin-like growth factor II
2.  A Common Variant in MTHFD1L is Associated with Neural Tube Defects and mRNA Splicing Efficiency 
Human mutation  2009;30(12):1650-1656.
Polymorphisms in folate-related genes have emerged as important risk factors in a range of diseases including neural tube defects (NTDs), cancer and coronary artery disease (CAD). Having previously identified a polymorphism within the cytoplasmic folate enzyme, MTHFD1, as a maternal risk factor for NTDs; we considered the more recently identified mitochondrial paralogue, MTHFD1L as a candidate gene for NTD association. We identified a common deletion/insertion polymorphism, rs3832406, c.781-6823ATT(7-9), that influences splicing efficiency and is strongly associated with NTD risk. Three alleles of rs3832406 were detected in the Irish population with varying number of ATT repeats; Allele 1 consists of ATT7, while Alleles 2 and 3 consist of ATT8 and ATT9 respectively. Allele 2 of this triallelic polymorphism showed a decreased case risk as demonstrated by case-control logistic regression (P= 0.002) and by transmission disequilibrium test (TDT) (P= 0.001); while Allele 1 showed an increased case risk. Allele 3 showed no influence on NTD risk and represents the lowest frequency allele (0.15). Additional SNP genotyping in the same genomic region provides additional supportive evidence of an association. We demonstrate that two of the three alleles of rs3832406 are functionally different and influence the splicing efficiency of the alternate MTHFD1L mRNA transcripts.
doi:10.1002/humu.21109
PMCID: PMC2787683  PMID: 19777576
MTHFD1L; NTD; Splicing; Polymorphism; Association; Folate; Mitochondria
3.  Analysis of the MTHFD1 promoter and risk of neural tube defects 
Human genetics  2009;125(3):247-256.
Genetic variants in MTHFD1 (5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/ 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase/ 10-formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase), an important folate metabolic enzyme, are associated with a number of common diseases, including neural tube defects (NTDs). This study investigates the promoter of the human MTHFD1 gene in a bid to understand how this gene is controlled and regulated. Following a combination of in silico and molecular approaches, we report that MTHFD1 expression is controlled by a TATA-less, Initiator-less promoter and transcription is initiated at multiple start sites over a 126bp region. We confirmed the presence of three database polymorphisms (dbSNP) by direct sequencing of the upstream region (rs1076991 C>T, rs8010584 G>A, rs4243628 G>T), with a fourth (dbSNP rs746488 A>T) not found to be polymorphic in our population and no novel polymorphisms identified. We demonstrate that a common SNP rs1076991 C>T within the window of transcriptional initiation exerts a significant effect on promoter activity in vitro. We investigated this SNP as a potential risk factor for NTDs in a large homogenous Irish population and determined that it is not an independent risk factor, but, it does increase both case (χ2 = 11.06, P = 0.001) and maternal (χ2 = 6.68, P = 0.01) risk when allele frequencies were analysed in combination with the previously identified disease-associated p.R653Q (c.1958 G>A; dbSNP rs2236225) polymorphism. These results provide the first insight into how MTHFD1 is regulated and further emphasise its importance during embryonic development.
doi:10.1007/s00439-008-0616-3
PMCID: PMC2732995  PMID: 19130090
MTHFD1; NTD; Functional; SNP; R653Q; Promoter
4.  Construction of a High Resolution Linkage Disequilibrium Map to Evaluate Common Genetic Variation in TP53 and Neural Tube Defect Risk in an Irish Population 
Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the etiology of neural tube defects (NTDs). While periconceptional folic acid supplementation is known to significantly reduce the risk of NTDs, folate metabolic pathway related factors do not account for all NTDs. Evidence from mouse models indicates that the tumor protein p53 (TP53) is involved in implantation and normal neural tube development. To determine whether genetic variation in the TP53 might contribute to NTD risk in humans, we constructed a high resolution linkage disequilibrium (LD) map of the TP53 genomic region based on genotyping 21 markers in an Irish population. We found that nine of these variants can be used to capture the majority of common variation in the TP53 genomic region. In contrast, the 3-marker haplotype commonly reported in the TP53 literature offers limited coverage of the variation in the gene. We used the expanded set of polymorphisms to measure the influence of TP53 on NTDs using both case-control and family-based tests of association. We also assayed a functional variant in the p53 regulator MDM2 (rs2279744). Alleles of three noncoding TP53 markers were associated with NTD risk. A case effect was seen with the GG genotype of rs1625895 in intron 6 (OR = 1.37 [1.04-1.79], p=0.02). A maternal effect was seen with the 135/135 genotype of the intron 1 VNTR (OR = 1.86 [1.16-2.96], p=0.01) and the TT genotype of rs1614984 (RR = 0.58 [0.37-0.91], p=0.02). As multiple comparisons were made, these cannot be considered definitive positive findings and additional investigation is required.
doi:10.1002/ajmg.a.32504
PMCID: PMC2836760  PMID: 18798306
neural tube defects; spina bifida; p53; TP53; MDM2; linkage disequilibrium
5.  Uncoupling Protein 2 Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Neural Tube Defects 
BACKGROUND:
Both environmental and genetic factors are involved in the etiology of neural tube defects (NTDs). Inadequate folate intake and obesity are important environmental risk factors. Several folate-related genetic variants have been identified as risk factors; however, little is known about how genetic variants relate to the increased risk seen in obese women. Uncoupling Protein 2 (UCP2) is an attractive candidate to screen for NTD risk because of its possible role in obesity as well as energy metabolism, type-2 diabetes, and the regulation of reactive oxygen species. Interestingly, a previous study found that a common UCP2 compound homozygous genotype was associated with a threefold increase in NTD risk.
METHODS:
We evaluated three polymorphisms, −866G>A, A55V, and the 3′UTR 45bp insertion/deletion, as risk factors for NTDs in Irish NTD cases (N=169), their mothers (N=163), their fathers (N=167) and normal control subjects (N=332).
RESULTS:
Allele and genotype frequencies were not significantly different when comparing NTD mothers, NTD fathers, or affected children to controls. Additionally, the previously reported risk genotype (combined homozygosity of 55VV and 3′UTR 45bp deletion/deletion) was not present at a higher frequency in any NTD group when compared to controls.
CONCLUSIONS:
In our Irish study population, UCP2 polymorphisms do not influence NTD risk. Moreover, the prevalence of this allele in other populations was similar to the Irish prevalence but far lower than reported in the previous NTD study, suggesting that this previous finding of an association with NTDs might have been due to an unrepresentative study sample.
doi:10.1002/bdra.20520
PMCID: PMC2724655  PMID: 19137581
neural tube defects; spina bifida; UCP2; obesity
6.  MARKERS OF OXIDATIVE STRESS AND SYSTEMIC VASOCONSTRICTION IN PREGNANT WOMEN DRINKING ≥ 48 GRAMS OF ALCOHOL PER DAY 
Background
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.
Methods
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.
Results
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.
Conclusion
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.
doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2008.00773.x
PMCID: PMC2615682  PMID: 18715278
Alcohol; Pregnancy; Isoprostanes; Prostacyclin; Thromboxane; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
7.  Choline concentrations in human maternal and cord blood and intelligence at 5 y of age2 
Background
Animal studies indicate that maternal prenatal choline supplementation leads to permanent enhancement of attention and spatial memory abilities in offspring, whereas dietary choline restriction during pregnancy impairs cognitive function in offspring. The association between gestational choline concentrations and neurodevelopmental outcome in humans has not been studied.
Objective
Our objective was to assess the relation between maternal and cord blood choline concentrations and child intelligence quotient (IQ) scores at 5 y of age.
Design
With data and samples from a prospective study (n = 404 maternal-child pairs), serum concentrations of free and total choline were measured in maternal serum at 4 gestational age intervals (16–18 wk, 24–26 wk, 30–32 wk, and 36–38 wk) and in cord blood. Child IQ at 5 y of age was assessed with the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised. Multiple regression techniques were used to estimate the relation between choline concentrations and Full Scale IQ, Verbal and Performance IQ, and subscales that assess spatial relation and memory ability while adjusting for other factors that affect IQ.
Results
There was no effect at gestational ages 16–18 wk, 24–26 wk, 30–32 wk, and 36–38 wk or in cord blood of serum concentrations of free or total choline on Full Scale child IQ or on selected scales related to visuospatial processing and memory.
Conclusion
Gestational and newborn choline concentrations in the physiologic range showed no correlation with childhood intelligence.
PMCID: PMC2423009  PMID: 18400712

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