Evaluating How Lipids Change During Early Pregnancy

A smiling pregnant woman holds her belly while reclined in bed.

Levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and other blood lipids change during pregnancy and are critical for fetal development and a healthy pregnancy. Abnormal blood lipid levels are linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes and a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases in mother and child. However, many studies that evaluate the link between genes and lipid traits are based on samples from men with European ancestry.

In a new study led by Fasil Tekola-Ayele, Ph.D., an Earl Stadtman Investigator in the Epidemiology Branch, researchers sought to identify genes associated with blood lipid traits (ex., levels of low-density and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) in first-trimester pregnant women from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. The team’s genome-wide association study (GWAS) looked at four population groups—European, African, Hispanic, and East Asian—from NICHD’s Fetal Growth Study.

Overall, the study showed that only 15% of genes or genetic areas linked to blood lipid traits in existing studies are applicable to pregnant women of diverse backgrounds. The team also identified areas in two genes (CELSR2 and APOE) that are linked to total cholesterol levels and levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. They also found two other genes (CETP and ABCA1) that appear to link to levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The findings underscore the need for more GWAS studies among diverse populations of pregnant people.

Learn more about the Epidemiology Branch: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/dir/dph/officebranch/eb.

top of pageBACK TO TOP