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Inflammation May Link Obesity and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes

January 11, 2012
Evidence Reviewed in Advances in Neuroimmune Biology

A number of different immunological mechanisms ensure the successful establishment and maintenance of pregnancy. Imbalance in these mechanisms is associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes.  In a review published in Advances in Neuroimmune Biology, researchers from the Institute of Life Science, College of Medicine at Swansea University in the UK examine the impact of maternal obesity on the inflammatory responses in tissues of both the mother and the child.

“While great progress has been made in elucidating the immunological mechanisms that ensure reproductive success, we now need to understand the impact of a very modern epidemic on immune response at the materno-fetal interface, as well on the mother and the child,” said lead investigator Catherine A. Thornton, PhD. “Inflammation may have a key role in many of the detrimental effects of obesity in non-pregnant individuals, and emerging data suggest that inflammation also links obesity and adverse pregnancy outcomes.” 

Evidence of altered inflammatory status with obesity in the circulation of both the mother and child in pregnancy is emerging.  For example, obese pregnant women have elevated levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6).  IL-6 is also increased in the cord plasma of offspring of obese mothers, and is associated with increased fetal adiposity and, in a rat model, to hypertension and increased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity in adulthood.  Altered inflammatory status of the placenta in association with maternal obesity may have a critical role in the short term programming of health and disease in the offspring, the researchers commented. Maternal obesity is associated with an inflammatory response by the placenta including elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine gene expression.

The negative impact of maternal obesity on the immune function of mother and child includes an increased risk for preeclampsia, likely mediated via inflammation and triglycerides.  Increased maternal body mass index is associated with an increased risk of neonatal early onset group B streptococcal disease, and an increased risk of respiratory tract infections.  The inflammatory response and immune function of the newborn might relate to later health outcomes.  Hyper-responsiveness of inflammatory function at birth is linked to the development of allergic disease in infancy. 

Maternal metabolic status during pregnancy and weaning is particularly relevant to healthy development of hypothalamic neurones that regulate weight and feeding in offspring, the researchers report.  One study demonstrated that a high-fat diet during pregnancy can induce the expression of hypothalamic peptides involved in the regulation of food intake and body composition in weanling rats.  More recently, female offspring of fathers fed a chronic high fat diet had impaired glucose tolerance and insulin secretion.  “These findings lead to the suggestion that such programmed expression has a role to play in adult physiology, including increased food intake, preference for a fat-rich diet, weight gain, and metabolic dysfunction,” says Dr. Thornton. 

“Diseases once found only in adults are increasing in the paediatric population.  The focus has been on diseases with a clear metabolic component and it remains relatively unknown what risk maternal obesity during pregnancy imposes for the development of autoimmune diseases, allergy and asthma, and neurodevelopment and cognitive behavior,” stated Dr. Thornton.  “Animal models indicate that the provision of a normal diet to the offspring once weaned does not overcome the effects of maternal overnutrition, so simple dietary changes may prove ineffective.  Targeted maternal immunomodulation might be needed to curtail this potential pandemic.” 

The article is “Inflammation, Obesity, and Neuromodulation in Pregnancy and Fetal Development,” by C.A. Thornton, R.H. Jones, A. Doekhie, A.H. Bryant, A.L. Beynon, and J.S. Davies. Advances in Neuroimmune Biology 1 (2011) 193-203.  DOI 10.3233/NIB-2011-015.  Published by IOS Press.

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NOTES FOR EDITORS

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists.  Contact Daphne Watrin, IOS Press, Tel: +31 20 688 3355, d.watrin@iospress.nl. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact Sian Newman, Swansea University College of Medicine, Tel: +44 1792 602362 or s.y.newman@swansea.ac.uk.

ABOUT ADVANCES IN NEUROIMMUNE BIOLOGY

The nervous, endocrine and Immune systems form a regulatory network, a Super-System, that governs all events from conception until death in higher animals and in man, including physiological and pathophysiological processes. Advances in Neuroimmune Biology publishes review articles that contribute to the understanding of the integrative regulation of higher organisms in their entire complexity from a multidisciplinary perspective.

ABOUT IOS PRESS

Commencing its publishing activities in 1987, IOS Press (www.iospress.nl) serves the information needs of scientific and medical communities worldwide. IOS Press now (co-)publishes over 100 international journals and about 130 book titles each year on subjects ranging from computer sciences and mathematics to medicine and the natural sciences.

IOS Press continues its rapid growth, embracing new technologies for the timely dissemination of information. All journals are available electronically and an e-book platform was launched in 2005.

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