Photo of a premature infant and mother
Photo credit: UW Medicine
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By Leila Gray / UW Medicine

Recent studies indicate that infants born prematurely have a higher risk of developing heart disease later in life. Now, researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle have shown that, in preterm animal models, inflammation due to infection can disrupt the activity of genes crucial for normal heart development.

"This study connects the dots between preterm birth and heart disease in adult life by defining the gene networks disrupted by infection and inflammation that program normal heart development," said lead author Dr. Kristina Adams Waldorf, Adjunct Professor of Global Health and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who specializes in maternal and fetal infections.

"When I was in training," she said, "we talked to women in preterm labor about the risk to their infants of lung and brain injury. We now know that long-term health risks of a preterm birth extend beyond the developing lungs and brain to involve vision, hearing, kidney and even heart function."

The “Editors’ Choice” study appears in the January 23 online edition of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Dr. Lakshmi Rajagopal, Adjunct Associate Professor of Global Health and Associate Professor of Pediatrics, and an expert on newborn infectious diseases at Seattle Children's Research Institute; and Dr. Timothy Mitchell, an obstetrician specializing in high-risk pregnancies and a former UW Medicine fellow in maternal and fetal medicine; led the study with Adams Waldorf. 


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Media Contact: 
Leila Gray, 206.685.0381,