Research Into Maternal Breathing Dysfunction and Increased Autism Risk Receives UW2020 Award

Maternal Breathing Dysfunction during Pregnancy Increases Risk for Psychiatric Disorders in Her Offspring: A Paradigm-Shifting Concept

A UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine study exploring the relationship between maternal breathing dysfunction during pregnancy and increased risk for psychiatric disorders in offspring is among 17 innovative projects chosen to join the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative grant cohort.

Led by Associate Professor Tracy Baker and Professor Jyoti Watters, both in the Department of Comparative Biosciences, the research project will examine whether and how maternal disordered breathing (SDB) during pregnancy causes autism-like behavior in the offspring.

Maternal Breathing Dysfunction during Pregnancy Increases Risk for Psychiatric Disorders in Her Offspring: A Paradigm-Shifting Concept
Research led by UW SVM faculty in the Department of Comparative Biosciences and supported by the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative could reveal new targets to enable early diagnosis and therapeutic intervention for neurodevelopmental disorders.

Each year, over half a million women develop sleep-disordered breathing by the third trimester. SDB is characterized by recurrent partial or complete cessation of breathing during sleep, causing drops in blood oxygen levels often hundreds of times each night. It is a potent inflammatory stimulus, inducing chronic inflammation that, in turn, causes many illnesses in affected individuals. There is a growing scientific consensus that maternal inflammation increases susceptibility to autism.

The research, which also includes Comparative Biosciences Assistant Professor Michael Cahill and Associate Professor Stephen Johnson, as well as Avtar Roopra, an associate professor of neuroscience at UW-Madison, will reveal new targets to enable early diagnosis and therapeutic intervention for neurodevelopmental disorders.

Because maternal sleep-disordered breathing also causes sleep-disordered breathing in offspring, it may predispose to a multitude of other adult illnesses associated with the condition, including cancer, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, and neurodegenerative disorders. Learn more about the research project.

This is the fourth round of UW2020 project selections. These projects, with an average award amount of $432,442, were among 111 proposals submitted from across the UW-Madison campus. The initiative is funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

The goal of UW2020 is to stimulate and support cutting-edge, highly innovative and groundbreaking research at UW-Madison and to support the acquisition of shared instruments or equipment that will foster significant advances in research.

“While previous rounds of UW2020 projects are now maturing and realizing their potential, we are excited to infuse the initiative with a new class of inspiring and novel projects that continue to showcase UW–Madison’s highly competitive and forward-thinking world-class faculty and staff researchers,” says Norman Drinkwater, interim vice chancellor for research and graduate education.

Visit the UW2020 website to see all project descriptions.

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