Association between fetal sex and maternal plasma microRNA responses to prenatal alcohol exposure: evidence from a birth outcome-stratified cohort. Academic Article uri icon


  • Most persons with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) remain undiagnosed or are diagnosed in later life. To address the need for earlier diagnosis, we previously assessed miRNAs in the blood plasma of pregnant women who were classified as unexposed to alcohol (UE), heavily exposed with affected infants (HEa), or heavily exposed with apparently unaffected infants (HEua). We reported that maternal miRNAs predicted FASD-related growth and psychomotor deficits in infants. Here, we assessed whether fetal sex influenced alterations in maternal circulating miRNAs following prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). To overcome the loss of statistical power due to disaggregating maternal samples by fetal sex, we adapted a strategy of iterative bootstrap resampling with replacement to assess the stability of statistical parameter estimates. Bootstrap estimates of parametric and effect size tests identified male and female fetal sex-associated maternal miRNA responses to PAE that were not observed in the aggregated sample. Additionally, we observed, in HEa mothers of female, but not male fetuses, a network of co-secreted miRNAs whose expression was linked to miRNAs encoded on the X-chromosome. Interestingly, the number of significant miRNA correlations for the HEua group mothers with female fetuses was intermediate between HEa and UE mothers at mid-pregnancy, but more similar to UE mothers by the end of pregnancy. Collectively, these data show that fetal sex predicts maternal circulating miRNA adaptations, a critical consideration when adopting maternal miRNAs as diagnostic biomarkers. Moreover, a maternal co-secretion network, predominantly in pregnancies with female fetuses, emerged as an index of risk for adverse birth outcomes due to PAE.

published proceedings

  • Biol Sex Differ

altmetric score

  • 7.1

author list (cited authors)

  • Salem, N. A., Mahnke, A. H., Wells, A. B., Tseng, A. M., Yevtushok, L., Zymak-Zakutnya, N., ... Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD).

citation count

  • 11

complete list of authors

  • Salem, Nihal A||Mahnke, Amanda H||Wells, Alan B||Tseng, Alexander M||Yevtushok, Lyubov||Zymak-Zakutnya, Natalya||Wertlecki, Wladimir||Chambers, Christina D||Miranda, Rajesh C

publication date

  • September 2020