The Grown in Wales Study
Identifying a placental origin for maternal mood disorders and detrimental outcomes for children.
Prenatal adversity, which is estimated to impact more than half of all pregnancies in the UK, compromises fetal growth increasing the chances of stillbirth, prematurity and infant mortality. Beyond these immediate and highly visible problems, infants that survive carry the invisible burden of increased risk of some of the most common and pervasive diseases that impact human populations.
In utero exposure to maternal depression is one adversity that has been linked to these poorer outcomes for children suggesting that maternal mood disorders drive the outcomes. However, researchers at Cardiff University led by Professor Rosalind John have new data to suggest that both the maternal mood disorders and detrimental outcomes for children could result from the same underlying placental pathology – which is placental endocrine insufficiency – potentially driven by unhealthy diets in pregnancy.
To translate these findings to benefit human health, Professor John and her colleagues set up The Grown in Wales Study funded by the Medical Research Council (2015-2018). This longitudinal pregnancy cohort study is based in South Wales with data on maternal depression symptomology alongside the collection of relevant biological samples including term placenta.
Funded by The Waterloo Foundation, data in infant temperamental outcomes aged one year was subsequently collected.
Most recently, an MRC funded PhD student has collected data on the Grown in Wales children aged 4.
Using these datasets, Professor John and her colleagues have already obtained evidenced that their findings in experimental models have relevance to human pregnancies blighted by depression. Specifically, they have shown that low levels of placental lactogen at term are associated with higher symptoms of depression both during pregnancy and also after the birth (postnatal depression). They have also shown that maternal depression in pregnancy is associated with sexually dimorphic behavioural outcomes for children, with male infants being relatively more impacted than female infants.
Current work by Professor John and her colleague Professor Anthony Isles, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) (Fund 1), seeks to interrogate:
- the mechanism linking adversity in pregnancy to placental endocrine insufficiency
- the mechanism linking placental endocrine insufficiency to altered maternal caregiving in mothers and daughters
Through a second BBSRC grant (Fund 2), Professor John’s group are examining:
- the function of imprinted genes as master regulators of placental hormones in mice and humans.
Funded by The Waterloo Foundation (Fund 3), Professor John and her colleagues Professor Stephanie van Goozen and Professor Ian Jones are seeking to discover:
- whether a healthy diet, specifically a diet high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, protects against maternal depression and adverse infant behavioural outcomes.
Through these three recently funded grants, Cardiff researchers will tackle the prevalence and consequences of maternal mood disorders.
- BBSRC BB/V008684/1 (2021-2024) “Prenatal adversity and the intergenerational transmission of atypical maternal caregiving”
- BBSRC BB/V014765/1 (2022-2024) “Imprinted genes as master regulators of placental hormones”
- The Waterloo Foundation (2021-2022) “The Grown in Wales Study: Does depression in pregnancy contribute to deficiencies in omega-3/6 fatty acids increasing the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders?”
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