A look into the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center Labs: Washington University/St. Louis

Circadian rhythms have a profound effect on metabolism, the immune system – and in the latest reserach from Drs. Herzog and Jungheim, maybe even preterm birth.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 11.49.03 AMWe’ve long known that our circadian rhythms have profound effects on how — and especially when — we go about our daily lives. These cycles are influenced by the various intervals of light and darkness we experience over a 24-hour period, but also can be triggered by biological factors, our genetics and even our environment. The range of circadian impacts runs from relatively unnoticed, like our moods and ability to cope with stressors, to the most obvious, like when we are hungry or sleepy.

Circadian rhythms also have a profound effect on the onset of labor, with approximately 80% of women going into spontaneous labor between late night and early morning. And some studies have even shown that altering a pregnant woman’s circadian rhythms can disrupt the fetus’ growth and development. But could these rhythms also be a key factor in preterm birth? That’s exactly what a team of researchers at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis are working on.

“The hypothesis we’re testing is that circadian rhythms in the mother, the fetus, or both, regulate birth timing, and when disrupted, may lead to preterm birth,” Dr. Herzog explained. “This chronodisruption, as it’s called, can be brought on by a number of factors, including shift work, exposure to artificial light, even irregular meals and sleep times. Our goal is to see how these disruptions influence preterm birth.”

The study has two parts. The first is to determine whether genetic or environmental disruptions of circadian rhythms lead to increased preterm birth risk in mice. The second part of the study is a pilot that will monitor and test 100 women pre- and post-conception to determine when disruption of the circadian rhythms of women with certain chronotypes, (e.g., larks vs. owls) increases their risk for preterm birth. The study will then be extended to 1000 women.

Also working on Theme Three at Washington University at St. Louis are Dr. Justin Fay, Ph.D., an associate professor of genetics, and Dr. Sarah K. England, a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Dr. Jeff Gill, a professor of Political Science.

“By correlating the data we receive with genetic variations, we’ll also be able to trace any outcomes back to a woman’s specific biology,” said Dr. Fay, “to determine what role genetics plays in affecting circadian rhythm.”

Another leader working on this theme is Dr. Emily Jungheim. She sees the potential for the results of this research to positively affect the women in her practice.

“When I talk to young reproductive age women who are trying to have a child, the things that really speak to them are those they can do themselves to improve their outcomes,” she said. “They’re so motivated to do whatever they can to ensure they’re going to have a healthy start for their baby.”

And modifying those outcomes could be as simple as having a regularly scheduled bedtime.

For more information on prematurity research breakthroughs, we invite you to sign up for the Campaign to End Premature Birth newsletter.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 11.52.17 AMwww.prematurityresearch.org
For more information on how you can be part of this effort, contact
philanthropy@marchofdimes.org

Source: March of Dimes 1275 Mamaroneck Avenue White Plains, NY 10605

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