Changes during pregnancy may contribute to the development of asthma in baby -study

Researchers believe that the observed epigenetic modifications in the asthmatic patients likely occurred during pregnancy.

Asthma breathing sick inhaler 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock)
Asthma breathing sick inhaler 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock)

It's long been known that having a mother with asthma is a key risk factor. New research has gone a step further to find that an epigenetically altered prenatal environment in pregnant women with the disease may increase the risk that their child will develop asthma, which is among the most common chronic ailments in the United States. 

The study, conducted by University of Chicago, found striking epigenetic differences in the airway cells of patients with asthma who have asthmatic mothers, compared with patients whose mothers never had asthma. The research was published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research was conducted in a diverse population, an important element of the study. Participants were patients from the UChicago Medicine asthma clinics. Many live on the South Side, where asthma rates are especially high.

 Pregnant woman (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE) Pregnant woman (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)

Conducting the study, with adult cells 

The study used cells taken from adult patients, but the results were in addition replicated in airway epithelial cells taken from an independent group of children. The research team believes that they observed epigenetic modifications in the asthmatic patients likely occurred during pregnancy, and exposure to the asthmatic mother’s in-utero environment shaped their likelihood of developing asthma later in life.

They noted that further research is needed to determine the timeline of these changes and their effects on asthma. 

One of the study authors, Carole Ober, who has spent years researching how genetics contribute to the development of asthma, including epigenetic factors, said: “The fact that these results were replicated in a separate cohort of children supports the notion that these modifications are present long before adulthood."

Epigenetics refers to changes in how genes are expressed that are not directed by changes or mutations in the DNA sequence itself, but rather by environmental factors. 

"These modifications are present long before adulthood."

Carole Ober

Asthma affects 5.5 million children and 19.2 million adults in the US.