Improving birth outcomes one amino acid at a time

March 8, 2018, University Health Network
CT images of blood vessel formation in the placentas of malaria-infected mice who receive either non-treated water (top image) or L-arginine supplemented drinking water (bottom inage). L-arginine supplementation increases the number of small vessels (those coloured in red) in placentas from malaria-infected litters, improving blood vessel development, blood flow and healthy birth outcomes. Credit: Courtesy of Chloe R. McDonald, Lindsay S. Cahill, Lisa M. Gazdzinski, John G. Sled and Kevin C. Kain.

A simple dietary supplement (L-arginine) was found to improve birth outcomes, paving the way for future clinical trials to test this inexpensive and safe intervention.

In their paper entitled, "Malaria in alters L-arginine bioavailability and placental vascular ," Science Translational Medicine, 7 March 2018, Toronto General Research Institute (TGRI) and University of Toronto researchers report that Malawian women with malaria in pregnancy had altered levels of L-arginine which were associated with poor outcomes. L-arginine is an amino acid that improves blood flow and circulation and that humans get from their diet, including eggs, meat and dairy.

In an experimental model of malaria in pregnancy, supplementing the diet of pregnant mice with L-arginine increased blood vessel development in the placenta and reduced low birth weight/preterm birth and stillbirth.

Preterm birth and stillbirth are leading causes of childhood death accounting for an estimated 2 million deaths per year; however there are few safe and effective interventions. Globally many of these poor birth outcomes are associated with maternal infections such as malaria.

Led by Dr. Chloe McDonald and Dr. Kevin Kain at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, University Health Network (UHN), the scientists show that supplementing the diet with L-arginine prevented malaria from depleting the L-arginine-nitric oxide (NO) pathway.

In the body, L-arginine is converted into nitric oxide, which is critical for normal placental blood vessel development and healthy birth outcomes. By the time a woman delivers, there are 250 kilometres of blood vessels in the placenta, which provide essential oxygen and nutrients to the rapidly growing baby.

"Our work shows that L-arginine is a critical component in regulating a key pathway that promotes in the placenta. Infections such as malaria can impair that pathway, restricting placental vascular development. Ultimately this can result in poor birth outcomes which can have long-term effects on babies who survive, including impaired brain and behavioural development," says Dr. McDonald, adding that research on safe, effective ways of promoting healthy birth outcomes are urgently needed.

Dr. Kain notes that the L-arginine-(NO) biosynthetic pathway identified in this research may be a common pathway underlying other conditions linked to poor birth outcomes, be they in low or high-income countries such as Canada.

"Our findings have broad implications not only for in pregnancy (125 million pregnancies at risk each year), but also for other globally important causes of adverse birth outcomes such as preeclampsia," says Dr. Kain, who is also Science Director, Tropical Disease Unit at the Toronto General Hospital, UHN.

Since L-arginine can be given to women as a simple, safe, and inexpensive food supplement, (in peanuts, for example) in pregnancy, Dr. Kain and Dr. McDonald are now planning human clinical trials to assess its impact on human .

Explore further: Depression linked to reduced arginine bioavailability

Related Stories

Depression linked to reduced arginine bioavailability

February 21, 2018
People suffering from major depressive disorder, MDD, have reduced arginine levels, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows. Arginine is an amino acid which the body uses to produce, e.g., nitric oxide. Nitric ...

Study suggests infant deaths can be prevented

February 13, 2013
An international team of tropical medicine researchers have discovered a potential method for preventing low birth weight in babies born to pregnant women who are exposed to malaria. Low birth weight is the leading cause ...

New study suggests dietary supplement can protect against pre-eclampsia

May 20, 2011
A dietary supplement containing an amino acid and antioxidant vitamins, given to pregnant women at high risk of pre-eclampsia, can reduce the occurrence of the disease, finds a study published in the British Medical Journal ...

Enhanced arginine metabolism may counteract inflammation pathways in asthma

May 23, 2016
High arginine levels are often observed in asthmatic individuals and may support increased production of nitric oxide, which is known to worsen airway inflammation. Medications that reduce arginine availability do not effectively ...

Maternal malaria during pregnancy causes cognitive defects in the offspring

September 24, 2015
Over half of all pregnant women world-wide are at risk for malaria, but little is known about possible consequences for the neurodevelopment of children exposed to malaria in pregnancy. A study published on September 24th ...

In vitro fertilization linked with increased risk of spontaneous preterm birth

November 8, 2017
A new analysis of published studies found an approximate 80% increased risk of spontaneous preterm birth (both before 37 and 34 weeks) when women become pregnant via in vitro fertilization (IVF) than through spontaneous conception.

Recommended for you

New study reveals time and day women are most likely to give birth

June 15, 2018
A new study has found that the time and day that women give birth can vary significantly depending on how labour starts and the mode of giving birth.

Blood test for pregnant women can predict premature birth

June 7, 2018
A new blood test for pregnant women detects with 75-80 percent accuracy whether their pregnancies will end in premature birth. The technique can also be used to estimate a fetus's gestational age—or the mother's due date—as ...

Drug combination offers more effective care for patients suffering miscarriage

June 6, 2018
A combination of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol can help bring closure to some women and their families suffering from miscarriage, and reduces the need for surgical intervention to complete the painful miscarriage ...

Genes, environment and schizophrenia—new study finds the placenta is the missing link

May 28, 2018
Hiding in plain sight, new research shines a spotlight on the placenta's critical role in the nature versus nurture debate and how it confers risk for schizophrenia and likely other neurodevelopmental disorders including ...

Vendors say pot eases morning sickness. Will baby pay a price?

May 22, 2018
(HealthDay)—Nearly 70 percent of Colorado marijuana dispensaries recommended pot products to manage early pregnancy-related morning sickness, new research reveals.

Pregnancy drug DES might have triggered ADHD in the grandchildren of women who used it

May 21, 2018
A study conducted by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported elevated odds for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the grandchildren ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.