Specifically, Cole analyzed transcription factor binding sequences in a gene called IL6, a molecule that is known to cause inflammation in the body and that contributes to cardiovascular disease, neurodegeneration and some types of cancer.
"The IL6 gene controls immune responses but can also serve as 'fertilizer' for cardiovascular disease and certain kinds of cancer," said Cole, who is also a member of UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and UCLA's Molecular Biology Institute. "Our studies were able to trace a biochemical pathway through which adverse life circumstances — fight-or-flight stress responses — can activate the IL6 gene.
Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a protein that in humans is encoded by the IL6 gene.
IL-6 acts as both a pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine - an immune system messenger molecule. IL-6 is relevant to many disease processes such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, prostate cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Advanced metastatic cancer patients have higher levels of IL6 in their blood.
Cytokines are regulatory signaling proteins, taking messages from cell to cell and influencing the behaviour and activity of the cells. Their pro-inflammatory behaviour is implicated in many of the processes that plague pregnant women, causing havoc for them and their babies.
This study is very exciting. Such clear linking of stress response and cytokine activation as described by these researchers is essentially providing more evidence that pregnant women need environments which are calm, relaxed, nurturing and supportive. Midwives are the obvious people to support, nurture and ensure calm and relaxed surroundings as they work with women to normalise their experiences of change on the journey to becoming a mother.
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Study finds genetic link between misery and death