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Keywords:

  • HLA-DQ;
  • maternal smoking;
  • birthweight;
  • gene–environment interaction

Summary

Maternal smoking during pregnancy inhibits fetal growth, and is a major cause of childhood and adult morbidity, including increased risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. However, the use of birthweight as a proxy for future smoking-related morbidity is hindered by its wide variability, suggesting a role for other birthweight-modifying factors. We report here, for the first time, that interactions between specific fetal HLA-DQA1 and DQB1 alleles and maternal smoking can influence birthweight. We compared mean birthweights of a series of term, HLA-DQ typed white UK newborns (n = 552) whose mothers had either smoked (n = 211) or not smoked (n = 341) during pregnancy. Maternal smoking during pregnancy resulted in an average birthweight reduction of 244 g, but the combined effects of maternal smoking and fetal DQA1*0101 or DQB1*0501 alleles resulted in a 230 and 240 g further reduction in mean birthweight, respectively, resulting from interactions between smoking and these DQ types. Other fetal DQ allele-specific interactions with maternal smoking are suggested by a ‘protective’ effect on smoking-associated birthweight reduction in newborns typing for DQA1*0201 and DQB1*0201. Our results suggest biological interactions between maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy and specific fetal DQ alleles that affect fetal growth. The precise nature of these interactions merits further investigation, as knowledge of fetal HLA-DQ type may be useful in refining risk estimates of severe fetal growth restriction because of maternal smoking during pregnancy.