Infection and fetal development

Infection in the womb may cause changes in the way babies’ lungs develop.

While the baby is in the womb, it is important that it is protected from infection. Infection, and the inflammation it can cause, can lead to babies being born too early. Infections in the womb can also have other effects on unborn babies. We wanted to understand whether infection could hurt the brain or lungs in growing babies, and if so, whether we could stop this from happening.

In earlier work, we tried to use a drug that stops inflammation to prevent premature birth in mice. We didn’t manage to stop the mice giving birth early, but we did notice that the babies were more likely to survive. We thought this suggested that the anti-inflammatory might stop damage to the babies while they were still in the womb.

We treated mice with a substance called LPS that the body reacts to in the same way as an infection. Some mice were also given an anti-inflammatory drug, called 15-epi-lipoxin A4. After 8 hours, we looked at which genes were active in the hearts and lungs of the fetuses.

Our results suggest that infection may cause the lungs of the baby to develop faster than normal. This still happened when mice were also given the anti-inflammatory treatment. We didn’t find any changes in the genes that control how the baby’s heart grows. 

Researchers

Jane Norman, Philippa Saunders, Sara Rinaldi

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Funding

This study is fully funded by Tommy's and takes place in a Tommy's centre

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