Donghai Liang Awarded NIEHS R21 to Study Traffic Exposure, Maternal Metabolome and Birth Outcomes

HERCULES-supported junior investigator, Donghai Liang, was recently awarded an NIEHS R21 entitled “Traffic Exposure, Maternal Metabolome and Birth Outcomes (TEMMBO) Study.” A summary of his proposed work is below.

Exposures to traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) during pregnancy have been linked to adverse birth outcomes and the development of atopic diseases in childhood. Notably, communities of color and the poor, especially African American (AA) women and children, disproportionately experience both high TRAP exposures and adverse birth and child health outcomes. The mechanisms underlying how maternal TRAP exposures may affect birth outcomes and shape child health disparities are still largely unknown. We hypothesize that elevated exposure to TRAPs during pregnancy will result in perturbations in specific metabolic pathways, especially those linked to oxidative stress and inflammation, which will increase risk for adverse birth outcomes including preterm birth and small-size-for- gestational age. Our multidisciplinary team of investigators proposes to conduct the Traffic Exposure, Maternal Metabolome and Birth Outcomes (TEMMBO) Study to test this hypothesis in a cohort of 320 AA pregnant women with well-phenotyped birth outcomes and longitudinal high-resolution metabolic profiling. In doing this, we will: 1) generate retrospective estimates of individual-level TRAP exposures using spatiotemporally-resolved source dispersion models (Aim 1); 2) examine whether prenatal exposure to TRAP is longitudinally associated with perturbations in maternal metabolome (Aim 2); and 3) explore whether maternal metabolic pathways that associate with increased TRAP exposures also associate with adverse birth outcomes (i.e. preterm birth and small-size-for-gestational age) under a mediation framework (Exploratory Aim 3).  
The proposed TEMMBO Study is highly innovative in being the first longitudinal study to examine links among TRAP exposures, metabolic perturbations and adverse birth outcomes in a socio-economically diverse, exceptionally phenotyped AA maternal-child cohort. This linkage will include novel exposure assessment through external, traffic emission exposure modeling paired with internal, high-resolution metabolomics data. Together, results will contribute towards identifying factors that moderate associations between TRAP exposures and adverse birth outcomes, providing opportunities for targeted interventions to mitigate TRAP-related risk and improve health outcomes particularly among pregnant women and newborns in the minority population.