Racial Differences in the Biochemical Effects of Stress in Pregnancy

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Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Sep 23;17(19):E6941. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17196941.


Prenatal stress has been linked to preterm birth via inflammatory dysregulation. We conducted a cross-sectional study on female participants who delivered live, singleton infants at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Magee Women’s Hospital. Participants (n = 200) were stratified by cumulative risk scores using a combination of individual factors (maternal education, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, relationship status, obesity, depression) and neighborhood deprivation scores. We hypothesized that inflammatory cytokines levels differ by risk group and race. Multiplex analyses of IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, IL-13 and TNF-alpha were run. We found that Black birthing people had more risk factors for chronic stress and had lower levels of IL-6 compared to White birthing people. When stratified by risk group and race, low-risk Black birthing people had lower levels of IL-6 compared to low-risk White birthing people, and high-risk Black birthing people had lower levels of IL-8 compared to high-risk White birthing people. Higher area deprivation scores were associated with lower IL-6 levels. Our results suggest that the relationship between chronic stress and inflammatory cytokines is modified by race. We theorize that Black birthing people encounter repetitive stress due to racism and social disadvantage which may result in stress pathway desensitization and a blunted cytokine response to future stressors.

PMID:32977397 | DOI:10.3390/ijerph17196941