High-altitude ancestry found helpful for fetal growth

January 9, 2008

Multi-generational high-altitude populations appear to have more protection against hypoxia-associated reductions in fetal growth than populations who are relatively new to a high-altitude region, according to the results of a study published in the September issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition.

Multi-generational high-altitude populations appear to have more protection against hypoxia-associated reductions in fetal growth than populations who are relatively new to a high-altitude region, according to the results of a study published in the September issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood-Fetal and Neonatal Edition.

Lorna G. Moore, PhD, of the University of Colorado Altitude Research Center, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, and colleagues analyzed medical records on 3,551 births among Andean, European, and Mestizo (mixed Andean-European) women living at low, intermediate, or high altitudes in Bolivia.

Although altitude was associated with decreased birthweight and increased small-for-gestational age (SGA) births in all three population groups, the researchers found that Andean infants born at high altitude tended to weigh more and were less likely to be SGA (13%, vs. 16% for Mestizos and 33% for Europeans). After adjusting for other factors, the researchers found a nearly fivefold risk of SGA births among Europeans compared to Andeans.

“Although comprising a small portion of the world’s population, high-altitude residents are uniquely positioned to define the genetic, physiological, or other characteristics influencing fetal growth, and thus to improve our ability to diagnose more accurately and ultimately prevent these conditions,” the authors conclude.

Julian CG, Vargas E, Armaza JF, et al. High-altitude ancestry protects against hypoxia-associated reductions in fetal growth. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2007;92:F372-F377.