Dr. Amanda N. Sferruzzi-Perri University Lecturer in Physiology Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow & Lister Institute Fellow University of Cambridge

Placenta May Explain Why Males of Older Mothers at Increased Risk of Heart Disease

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Amanda N. Sferruzzi-Perri University Lecturer in Physiology Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow & Lister Institute Fellow University of Cambridge

Dr. Sferruzzi-Perri

Dr. Amanda N. Sferruzzi-Perri
University Lecturer in Physiology
Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow & Lister Institute Fellow
University of Cambridge

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Having a pregnancy in advanced age (35 years or older) is often associated with a series of risks and complications for both the mother and her baby. These include preeclampsia (raised blood pressure in the mother during pregnancy), gestational diabetes (diabetes in the mother that develops onset in pregnancy), stillbirth and fetal growth restriction. There is also evidence from work in experimental animals that offspring from mothers who have entered pregnancy at an older age, are at heightened risk of heart problems and high blood pressure as young adults and particularly so, if they are male rather than female. We wondered whether these sex-related differences may derive from the way in which the male and female fetuses were supported within the womb, in an aged mother during pregnancy.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings? 

Response: The placenta is an organ that develops during pregnancy to support fetal growth. Using the rat as a model, we found that in an older mother the placenta of female fetuses showed beneficial changes in its structure and function that would maximise the support of fetal growth. In contrast, the placenta of male fetuses instead only showed changes that would contribute to the poor fetal growth seen. This may explain why males of aged mothers had an increased risk for cardiovascular problems in later life. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: With the average age of first pregnancy in women becoming higher and higher, and especially so in developed countries, it is very important to understand how the age of the mother and the sex of the baby interact to determine pregnancy and later health. In doing so, we may be able to enhance our management of human pregnancies and also develop targeted interventions to improve placental development and function and thus the life-long health outcomes for children born to mothers of advanced maternal age.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Further research is required to understand how the placenta of female and male fetuses differ in terms of their development, function and response to the environment of the mother. Further work is also required to identify the signals that the placenta sends to the mother to affect the way she supports fetal growth during pregnancy. In doing so, we may identify biomarkers that provide an early warning of poor fetal growth. We hope to also use the information gained to design treatments that target the placenta so we can improve pregnancy outcomes in women.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: This work was performed in collaboration with Prof Sandra Davidge, University of Alberta and Dr Alison Care, University of Adelaide.

This work received funding from the Royal Society, Academy of Medical Sciences, Lister Institute for Preventative Medicine, European Union Commission, National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Canadian Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

All of the experiments were conducted under the Canadian Council on Animal Care guidelines and were approved by the University of Alberta Health Sciences Animal Policy and Welfare Committee. All experimental protocols conformed to the National Institutes of Health’s Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (eighth edition, revised 2011). 


Tina Napso, Yin-Po Hung, Sandra T. Davidge, Alison S. Care, Amanda N. Sferruzzi-Perri. Advanced maternal age compromises fetal growth and induces sex-specific changes in placental phenotype in rats. Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-53199-x 


Last Modified: Dec 3, 2019 @ 8:22 pm

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