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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.  Transcobalamin II Receptor Polymorphisms Are Associated with Increased Risk for Neural Tube Defects 
Journal of medical genetics  2010;47(10):677-685.
Women who have low cobalamin (vitamin B12) levels are at increased risk for having children with neural tube defects (NTDs). The transcobalamin II receptor (TCblR) mediates uptake of cobalamin into cells. We evaluated inherited variants in the TCblR gene as NTD risk factors.
Case-control and family-based tests of association were used to screen common variation in TCblR as genetic risk factors for NTDs in a large Irish group. A confirmatory group of NTD triads was used to test positive findings.
We found two tightly linked variants associated with NTDs in a recessive model: TCblR rs2336573 (G220R) (pcorr=0.0080, corrected for multiple hypothesis testing) and TCblR rs9426 (pcorr =0. 0279). These variants were also associated with NTDs in a family-based test prior to multiple test correction (log-linear analysis of a recessive model: rs2336573 (G220R) (RR=6.59, p=0.0037) and rs9426 (RR=6.71, p=0.0035)). We describe a copy number variant (CNV) distal to TCblR and two previously unreported exonic insertion-deletion polymorphisms.
TCblR rs2336573 (G220R) and TCblR rs9426 represent a significant risk factor in NTD cases in the Irish population. The homozygous risk genotype was not detected in nearly one thousand controls, indicating this NTD risk factor may be of low frequency and high penetrance. Nine other variants are in perfect LD with the associated SNPs. Additional work is required to identify the disease-causing variant. Our data suggest that variation in TCblR plays a role in NTD risk and that these variants may modulate cobalamin metabolism.
PMCID: PMC4112773  PMID: 20577008
neural tube defects; spina bifida; transcobalamin II receptor (TCblR); cobalamin; vitamin B12; copy number variant (CNV)
4.  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
6.  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.
PMCID: PMC2787683  PMID: 19777576
MTHFD1L; NTD; Splicing; Polymorphism; Association; Folate; Mitochondria
7.  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.
PMCID: PMC2732995  PMID: 19130090
MTHFD1; NTD; Functional; SNP; R653Q; Promoter
8.  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.
PMCID: PMC2836760  PMID: 18798306
neural tube defects; spina bifida; p53; TP53; MDM2; linkage disequilibrium
9.  Uncoupling Protein 2 Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Neural Tube Defects 
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.
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).
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC2724655  PMID: 19137581
neural tube defects; spina bifida; UCP2; obesity
10.  Choline concentrations in human maternal and cord blood and intelligence at 5 y of age2 
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gestational and newborn choline concentrations in the physiologic range showed no correlation with childhood intelligence.
PMCID: PMC2423009  PMID: 18400712

Results 1-10 (10)