Understanding Racial Disparities of Preterm Birth Through the Placenta

Nana Matoba*, Karen K. Mestan, James W. Collins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The racial disparity associated with preterm birth is a public health concern in the United States. The placenta is the principal metabolic, respiratory, and endocrine organ of the fetus and a key route by which environmental exposures are transmitted from mother to offspring. Available at every delivery, it may serve as a marker of differences in prenatal exposures that manifest differently by race. Recently, we described differences in placental pathology between African-American and White preterm births: the prevalence of chronic inflammation was higher among African-American women's placentas compared with those of White women. Similarly, racial differences have been shown in placental malperfusion and placental weight. Social determinants such as poverty and stress from discrimination have been implicated in racial disparities in preterm birth. To date, however, the underlying biological mechanisms, whether through inflammatory, oxidative stress, or other pathways involving epigenetic programming, remain largely unknown. The placenta, complemented by maternal and umbilical cord blood biomarkers, may provide important information on the perinatal environment that explains the origins of racial disparities in preterm birth rates and subsequent health outcomes. This article reviews existing literature and current research gaps. Opportunities are discussed for future placental research that may reveal novel mechanisms leading to the development of new approaches in the prevention and management of preterm birth and its outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-296
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Therapeutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • placental pathology
  • preterm birth
  • racial disparity
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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