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New Research to Explore the Impact of Exposure to Rising Temperatures During Pregnancy


A team of researchers have been awarded funding to investigate the impact of short spells of exposure to high temperatures during early pregnancy on the long-term health of the child.

A multidisciplinary team of scientists at the University of Nottingham in collaboration with the University of Leeds have received £2 million Wellcome Trust funding to work on a project to determine how transient exposure to heat stress during early pregnancy affects pregnancy establishment and the long-term health of the child.

Global temperatures are increasing rapidly and with that the frequency and severity of heat waves during the summer. Last summer temperatures peaked at around 40 degrees Celsius in the UK and, currently, peak temperatures of greater than 40 degrees are being recorded in Mediterranean countries. Predictions are that these extremes in temperature will become a regular occurrence in future.

This new study aims to identify how short-term exposure to elevated temperatures (typically between 28 to 33 degrees) during the first two weeks of pregnancy affects embryo development, implantation and adult-offspring health. One of the aims of the study is to identify intervention points to alleviate the effects of extreme heat during early pregnancy.

Elevated temperatures (high 20s to low 30s) for just a few days during early pregnancy can increase the risk of pregnancy failure. Long-term consequences for children born following maternal heat stress during early pregnancy are not known. However, scientists recognise that the first 2-3 weeks of pregnancy are the most sensitive stage of human development.

Kevin Sinclair and Ramiro Alberio, Professors of Developmental Biology from the University of Nottingham’s School of Biosciences will examine changes in DNA due to heat stress.

There is compelling evidence that maternal diet during the first few days of pregnancy can have long-lasting effects on the health of offspring (children) and indeed their offspring (grandchildren). This arises because, under normal circumstances, sweeping changes occur to DNA inherited from the father (sperm) and mother (egg) in order to allow fertilization and embryo implantation to take place. We will now investigate how these important and naturally occurring events are disrupted by short-term periods of maternal heat stress, rather than diet, during early pregnancy.

Professor Kevin Sinclair

These disruptions during early pregnancy can have a long-term effect on the health and wellbeing of offspring.

Studies for the most part will use the pig as a model species. We will establish health consequences in adult offspring by using cutting edge, non-invasive techniques to assess insulin resistance, blood pressure and kidney function.

David Gardner, Professor of Physiology at the University of Nottingham’s Vet School

By studying the DNA of different animal species, some of whom are tolerant to heat stress, and comparing it to data that the team will generate in pigs, the team hope to identify common physiological pathways that confer heat tolerance during pregnancy.

By studying the DNA of heat adapted mammals in comparison to that of other mammals like humans, we can determine what genomic elements are most likely to contribute to pregnancy success at higher temperatures. This powerful approach will identify pathways and processes to target in order to improve outcomes for other species.

Professor Mary O’Connell, School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham

Source: University of Nottingham

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