Regulation of inflammation during gestation and birth outcomes: Inflammatory cytokine balance predicts birth weight and length

Haley B. Ragsdale, Christopher W. Kuzawa, Judith B. Borja, Josephine L. Avila, Thomas W. McDade*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objectives: The maternal environment during gestation influences offspring health at birth and throughout the life course. Recent research has demonstrated that endogenous immune processes such as dysregulated inflammation adversely impact birth outcomes, increasing the risk for preterm birth and restricted fetal growth. Prior analyses examining this association suggest a relationship between maternal C-reactive protein (CRP), a summary measure of inflammation, and offspring anthropometric outcomes. This study investigates pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines, and their ratio, to gain deeper insight into the regulation of inflammation during pregnancy. Methods: IL6, IL10, TNFɑ, and CRP were quantified in dried blood spots collected in the early third trimester (mean = 29.9 weeks) of 407 pregnancies in Metropolitan Cebu, Philippines. Relationships between these immune markers and offspring anthropometrics (birth weight, length, head circumference, and sum of skinfold thicknesses) were evaluated using multivariate regression analyses. Ratios of pro- to anti-inflammatory cytokines were generated. Results: Higher maternal IL6 relative to IL10 was associated with reduced offspring weight and length at birth. Individual cytokines did not predict birth outcomes. Conclusions: Consistent with the idea that the relative balance of cytokines with pro- and anti-inflammatory effects is a key regulator of inflammation in pregnancy, the IL6:IL10 ratio, but neither cytokine on its own, predicted offspring birth outcomes. Our findings suggest that prior reports of association between CRP and fetal growth may reflect, in part, the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines, and that the gestational environment is significantly shaped by cytokine imbalance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23245
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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