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It is well established that high-dose alcohol consumption during pregnancy increases the risk for a plethora of adverse offspring outcomes. These include neurodevelopmental, cognitive and social deficits, as well as psychiatric illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. However, much less evidence is available on the effects of low- and early-dose alcohol exposure on mental health outcomes, regardless of the accumulating evidence that mental health outcomes should be considered in the context of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis. This review will discuss the evidence that indicates low-dose and early prenatal alcohol exposure can increase the risk of mental illness in offspring and discuss the mechanistic pathways that may be involved.
Evidence suggests that sub-optimal maternal nutrition has implications for the developing offspring. We have previously shown that exposure to a low-protein diet during gestation was associated with upregulation of genes associated with cholesterol transport and packaging within the placenta. This study aimed to elucidate the effect of altering maternal dietary linoleic acid (LA; omega-6) to alpha-linolenic acid (ALA; omega-6) ratios as well as total fat content on placental expression of genes associated with cholesterol transport. The potential for maternal body mass index (BMI) to be associated with expression of these genes in human placental samples was also evaluated. Placentas were collected from 24 Wistar rats at 20-day gestation (term = 21–22-day gestation) that had been fed one of four diets containing varying fatty acid compositions during pregnancy, and from 62 women at the time of delivery. Expression of 14 placental genes associated with cholesterol packaging and transfer was assessed in rodent and human samples by quantitative real time polymerase chain reaction. In rats, placental mRNA expression of ApoA2, ApoC2, Cubn, Fgg, Mttp and Ttr was significantly elevated (3–30 fold) in animals fed a high LA (36% fat) diet, suggesting increased cholesterol transport across the placenta in this group. In women, maternal BMI was associated with fewer inconsistent alterations in gene expression. In summary, sub-optimal maternal nutrition is associated with alterations in the expression of genes associated with cholesterol transport in a rat model. This may contribute to altered fetal development and potentially programme disease risk in later life. Further investigation of human placenta in response to specific dietary interventions is required.
Gut bacteria from the genus Prevotella are found in high abundance in faeces of non-industrialised communities but low abundance in industrialised, Westernised communities. Prevotella copri is one of the principal Prevotella species within the human gut. As it has been associated with developmental health and disease states, we sought to (i) develop a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to rapidly determine P. copri abundance and (ii) investigate its abundance in a large group of Australian pregnant mothers.
The Barwon Infant Study is a pre-birth cohort study (n = 1074). Faecal samples were collected from mothers at 36 weeks gestation. Primers with a probe specific to the V3 region of P. copri 16S rRNA gene were designed and optimised for real-time PCR. Universal 16S rRNA gene primers amplified pan-bacterial DNA in parallel. Relative abundance of P. copri was calculated using a 2-ΔCt method.
Relative abundance of P. copri by PCR was observed in 165/605 (27.3%) women. The distribution was distinctly bimodal, defining women with substantial (n = 115/165, 69.7%) versus very low P. copri expression (n = 50/165, 30.3%). In addition, abundance of P. copri by PCR correlated with 16S rRNA gene MiSeq sequencing data (r2 = 0.67, P < 0.0001, n = 61).
We have developed a rapid and cost-effective technique for identifying the relative abundance of P. copri using real-time PCR. The expression of P. copri was evident in only a quarter of the mothers, and either at substantial or very low levels. PCR detection of P. copri may facilitate assessment of this species in large, longitudinal studies across multiple populations and in various clinical settings.
Preeclampsia (PE) is now recognised as a cardiovascular risk factor for women. Emerging evidence suggests that children exposed to PE in utero may also be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in later life. Individuals exposed to PE in utero have higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure and higher body mass index (BMI) compared to those not exposed to PE in utero. The aim of this review is to discuss the potential mechanisms driving the relationship between PE and offspring CVD. Exposure to an adverse intrauterine environment as a consequence of the pathophysiological changes that occur during a pregnancy complicated by PE is proposed as one mechanism that programs the fetus for future CVD risk. Consistent with this hypothesis, animal models of PE where progeny have been studied demonstrate causality for programming of offspring cardiovascular health by the preeclamptic environment. Shared alleles between mother and offspring, and shared lifestyle factors between mother and offspring provide alternate pathways explaining associations between PE and offspring CVD risk. In addition, adverse lifestyle habits can also act as second hits for those programmed for increased CVD risk. PE and CVD are both multifactorial diseases and, hence, identifying the relative contribution of PE to offspring risk for CVD is a very complex task. However, considering the emerging strong association between PE and CVD, those exposed to PE in utero may benefit from targeted primary CVD preventive strategies.