Maternal genetic and phenotypic characteristics (e.g., metabolic and behavioral) affect both the intrauterine milieu and lifelong health trajectories of their fetuses. Yet at the same time, fetal genotype may affect processes that alter pre- and postnatal maternal physiology, and the subsequent health of both fetus and mother. In a recent study, Dr. Nianjun Liu, associate professor in the department of biostatistics, section on statistical genetics, and Dr. David B. Allison, distinguished professor and director of the office of energetics and Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC), at the University of Alabama at Birmingham — teamed with UAB’s Mr. Vinodh Srinivasasainagendra, statistician in the department of biostatistics, and Dr. Edward Archer, a research fellow in the office of energetics and NORC — refer to these latter effects as “fetal drive.”
If fetal genotype is driving physiologic, metabolic, and behavioral phenotypic changes in the mother, there is a possibility of differential effects with different fetal genomes inducing different long-term effects on both maternal and fetal health, mediated through intrauterine environment. This proposed mechanistic path remains largely unexamined and untested.
In this study, the researchers offer a statistical method to rigorously test this hypothesis and to make causal inferences in humans by relying on the (conditional) randomization inherited in the process of meiosis. For illustration, they apply this method to a dataset from theFramingham Heart Study.
“A Statistical Framework for Testing the Causal Effects of Fetal Drive” was published in January 2015 the journal Frontiers in Genetics.