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Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Dec 1;170(11):1373-81. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp325. Epub 2009 Oct 23.

The genetics of preterm birth: using what we know to design better association studies.

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Biostatistics Branch, Mail Drop A3-03, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, P. O. Box 12233, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.


Women delivering preterm are at greatly increased risk of another preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies, reflecting effects of the environment, genetics, or both. Recent literature tells an increasingly coherent story about genetic susceptibility. Women who change partners after delivering preterm retain their elevated risk, whereas fathers who change partners do not. Women who themselves were preterm are at increased risk, an association not seen in fathers. Women with a half-sister who delivered preterm are at increased risk only if the shared parent was the mother. Concordance for preterm delivery is elevated in monozygotic compared with dizygotic twin mothers but not in monozygotic twin fathers. Several mechanisms could be operating: mitochondrial genes, maternal genes, or fetal genes expressing only the maternally derived copy. The authors compare 3 study designs for their ability to detect variants and to distinguish among mechanisms underlying heritability of this common outcome. The case-parent triad design offers robustness against self-selection and genetic population stratification, providing for estimation of genetic effects that are fetal, maternal, or that depend on the parent of origin. A case-base approach compares case-mothers with randomly sampled baby-mother pairs and permits estimation of the same relative risk parameters. Both designs offer important advantages over the commonly applied case-mother/control-mother design.

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