Antenatal inflammation and brain pathology in preterm infants

(abstract of the doctoral dissertation)

link to the doctoral dissertation


Chorioamnionitis is known to be an important risk factor underlying preterm delivery, and it has also been suggested to associate with brain lesions and deviant neurological development in both preterm and term infants. Cytokines are believed to be the link causing the deleterious effects of inflammation to the nervous system. Their genetic regulation has also been suggested to play a role, as interleukin (IL)-6 -174 and -572 genotypes, which partly regulate IL-6 synthesis responses, have been connected with deviant neurological development in preterm infants.


We evaluated the association of histological chorioamnionitis with brain lesions, regional brain volumes, and the functioning of the auditory pathway in very low birth weight/very low gestational age (VLBW/VLGA) infants. In addition, we investigated the association between IL-6 -174 and -572 genotypes and histological chorioamnionitis, neonatal infections, and brain lesions and regional brain volumes in VLBW/VLGA infants.


This study is a part of a larger multidisciplinary project PIPARI (Development and Functioning of Very Low Birth Weight Infants from Infancy to School Age), in which the survivors of a 6-year cohort of VLBW/VLGA infants (n=274) are being followed until school age in Turku University Central Hospital, Finland.


Placental samples were collected in the delivery room, and were analyzed for histological inflammatory findings. Blood samples from the infants were collected and DNA was genotyped for IL-6-174 and -572 polymorphisms (GG/GC/CC). Brain ultrasound examinations were performed repeatedly in the neonatal intensive care unit and at term age, and were analysed for structural brain lesions. Brain magnetic resonance imaging was performed at term age, and was analysed for regional brain volumes. In addition, diffusion tensor imaging was performed at term, and was used to analyse fractional anisotrophy and the apparent diffusion coefficient of inferior colliculus. The brainstem auditory evoked potential recordings were carried out according to the routine clinical procedure at median age of 30 days after term age.


In our study, we found that histological chorioamnionitis was not an independent risk factor for brain lesions, reduced regional brain volumes or abnormal functioning of the auditory pathway in VLBW/VLGA infants. In addition, we found that IL-6 -174 GG and -572 GC genotypes were associated with a higher incidence of histological chorioamnionitis, and that -174 CC genotype associated with higher incidence of septicaemia. The analysed IL-6 genotypes were not associated with other brain lesions, but a reduced volume of basal ganglia and thalami was associated with IL-6 -174 CC and -572 GG genotypes. In conclusion, our findings suggest that histological chorioamnionitis is not an independent risk factor for the brain development of VLBW/VLGA infants, or that the risk caused by inflammation does not exceed the risks attributed to other underlying pathologies behind preterm deliveries. In addition, our findings give reason to propose that IL-6 promoter genotypes have a role in the defence against serious infections and in the brain development of VLBW/VLGA infants.