Cell-free DNA, inflammation, and the initiation of spontaneous term labor

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Hypomethylated cell-free DNA from senescent placental trophoblasts may be involved in the activation of the inflammatory cascade to initiate labor.

OBJECTIVE:

To determine the changes in cell-free DNA concentrations, the methylation ratio, and inflammatory markers between women in labor at term vs women without labor.

STUDY DESIGN:

In this prospective cohort study, eligible participants carried a nonanomalous singleton fetus. Women with major medical comorbidity, preterm labor, progesterone use, aneuploidy, infectious disease, vaginal bleeding, abdominal trauma, or invasive procedures during the pregnancy were excluded. Maternal blood samples were collected at 28 weeks, 36 weeks, and at admission for delivery. Total cell-free DNA concentration, methylation ratio, and interleukin-6 were analyzed. The primary outcome was the difference in methylation ratio in women with labor vs without labor. Secondary outcomes included the longitudinal changes in these biomarkers corresponding to labor status.

RESULTS:

A total of 55 women were included; 20 presented in labor on admission and 35 presented without labor. Women in labor had significantly greater methylation ratio (P = .001) and interleukin-6 (P < .001) on admission for delivery than women without labor. After we controlled for body mass index and maternal age, methylation ratio (adjusted relative risk, 1.38; 95% confidence interval, 1.13 to 1.68) and interleukin-6 (adjusted relative risk, 1.12, 95% confidence interval, 1.07 to 1.17) remained greater in women presenting in labor. Total cell-free DNA was not significantly different in women with labor compared with women without. Longitudinally, total cell-free DNA (P < .001 in labor, P = .002 without labor) and interleukin-6 (P < .001 in labor, P = .01 without labor) increased significantly across gestation in both groups. The methylation ratio increased significantly in women with labor from 36 weeks to delivery (P = .02).

CONCLUSION:

Spontaneous labor at term is associated with a greater cell-free DNA methylation ratio and interleukin-6 compared with nonlabored controls. As gestation advances, total cell-free DNA concentrations and interleukin-6 levels increase. A greater methylation ratio reflects a greater maternal contribution (vs placental) in women with labor, likely resulting from greater levels of neutrophils, lymphocytes, and uterine activation proteins at the time of labor. Although not significant, women in labor had a greater total cell-free DNA concentration and thus could theoretically have more hypomethylated DNA available for interaction with the inflammatory cascade. Larger studies are needed to investigate this theory.

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