BACKGROUND: To determine normal blood levels of brain-specific proteins S-100 and neuron specific enolase (NSE) in healthy newborns and their mothers following uncomplicated birth. METHODS: Umbilical artery and vein blood and maternal venous blood was collected at 112 consecutive uncomplicated deliveries. Venous blood samples were taken from 18 of the neonates 3 days after birth. S-100 and NSE were analyzed quantitatively by double antibody immunoluminometric assay (Sangtec Medical AB, Sweden). RESULTS: Compared with adults, healthy neonates had higher levels of both S-100 and NSE. For S-100, median levels (range) were 1.10 microg/l (0.38-5.50 microg/l and 0.98 microg/l (0.43-2.70 microg/l) in umbilical artery and vein, respectively. For NSE, median levels (range) in umbilical artery blood and vein were 27 microg/l (10-140 microg/l) and 10.75 microg/l (8.80->/=200 microg/l) respectively. The maternal venous blood levels of both S-100 and NSE were significantly lower than in their infants. At 3 days of life, neonatal venous levels of the proteins were still high: S-100, 0.48-9.70 microg/l; NSE, 17->/=200 microg/l. In contrast to adults, haemolysis affected the S-100 levels in umbilical blood significantly. CONCLUSION: Concentrations of both S-100 and NSE in blood are greater in newborns after normal birth than in healthy adults. The higher levels in umbilical artery blood than in umbilical vein blood are consistent with a fetal origin of these proteins. High levels in venous blood at 3 days of life suggest that the high levels at birth are not related to the birth process but reflect a high activity of these proteins during fetal development.
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