Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Nutrition and Food Sciences

Document Type



Early life heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) reflect autonomic maturation. Intervention with n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) during pregnancy favorably affects fetal HR and HRV; similar observations have been reported with infant n-3 LCPUFA intake. Infant HR and HRV have not been assessed in relation to maternal fatty acid status during pregnancy. Further, exposure to intrauterine inflammation may underlie these observations, although this hypothesis has not been tested. The aim of this observational study was to explore associations between maternal fatty acid and inflammatory status during pregnancy and infant HR and HRV. Simple linear and multiple regression were used to describe relationships for infant HR and HRV at 2 weeks, 4 months, and 6 months of age and: 1) maternal erythrocyte n-6 and n-3 fatty acids, 2) maternal plasma n-6 and n-3 endocannabinoids, and 3) maternal serum cytokines (interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor-α), adipokine (adiponectin), and acute phase reactant (C-reactive protein) at 20, 24, 32, and 36 gestational weeks. Higher maternal n-3 fatty acid status, especially DHA, during pregnancy was inversely related to infant HR and positively related to HRV; the inverse was observed for n-6 fatty acids. Maternal n-3 endocannabinoids during pregnancy were inversely related with infant HR and positively related to infant HRV. Conversely, when the n-6:n-3 endocannabinoid ratio more heavily favored the n-6 endocannabinoid series, there was a positive and inverse association with infant HR and HRV, respectively. Limited associations between the other inflammatory biomarkers (interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor-α, adiponectin, C-reactive protein) and infant HR/HRV were observed. As such, we cannot definitively conclude there is a link between intrauterine exposure to these biomarkers and infant autonomic development. These data build on existing literature evidencing a role for n-3 fatty acids in accelerating fetal and infant autonomic development and may indicate an anti-inflammatory role for n-3 endocannabinoids. This study is the first to examine potential relationships between maternal fatty acid status, maternal inflammation, and infant autonomic development. Further, this study is the first to examine endocannabinoids in relation to HR and HRV in any population.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Lammi-Keefe, Carol



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Life Sciences Commons