Mapping the cord blood transcriptome of pregnancies affected by early maternal anemia to identify signatures of fetal programming

Gad Hatem, Line Hjort, Olof Asplund, Daniel T R Minja, Omari Abdul Msemo, Sofie Lykke Møller, Thomas Lavstsen, Louise Groth-Grunnet, John P A Lusingu, Ola Hansson, Dirk Lund Christensen, Allan A Vaag, Isabella Artner, Thor Theander, Leif Groop, Christentze Schmiegelow, Ib Christian Bygbjerg, Rashmi B Prasad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Anemia during early pregnancy (EP) is common in developing countries and is associated with adverse health consequences for both mother and children. Offspring of women with EP anemia often have low birth-weight, the latter being a risk factor for cardiometabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes (T2D) later in life. Mechanisms underlying developmental programming of adult cardiometabolic disease include epigenetic and transcriptional alterations potentially detectable in umbilical cord blood (UCB) at time of birth.

METHODS: We leveraged global transcriptome- and accompanying epigenome-wide changes in 48 UCB from newborns of EP-anemic Tanzanian mothers and 50 controls to identify differentially expressed genes (DEG) in UCB exposed to maternal EP-anemia. DEGs were assessed for association with neonatal anthropometry and cord insulin levels. These genes were further studied in expression data from human fetal pancreas and adult islets to understand their role in beta-cell development and/or function.

RESULTS: The expression of 137 genes was altered in UCB of newborns exposed to maternal EP anemia. These putative signatures of fetal programming which included the birth-weight locus LCORL, were potentially mediated by epigenetic changes in 27 genes and associated with neonatal anthropometry. Among the DEGs were P2RX7, PIK3C2B, and NUMBL which potentially influence beta-cell development. Insulin levels were lower in EP anemia exposed UCB, supporting the notion of developmental programming of pancreatic beta-cell dysfunction and subsequently increased risk of T2D in offspring of EP anemic mothers.

CONCLUSIONS: Our data provide proof-of-concept on distinct transcriptional and epigenetic changes detectable in UCB from newborns exposed to maternal EP anemia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1303-1316
JournalThe Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism
Issue number5
Early online date2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Endocrinology and Diabetes


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