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Indian scientists solve preterm birth mystery

For the first time, the researchers found that gram-positive Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria produce small balloons called membrane vesicles. These vesicles contain toxins that destroy foetal and maternal cells. They also kill the collagen that keeps the cells together.

Sep 8, 2016 13:00 IST
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A team of Indian researchers unlocked the mechanisms by which preterm births occur. Preterm births signify the period between 28 and 32 weeks of gestation.

The team was led by Professor Anirban Banerjee from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Bombay, and Dr. Deepak Modi from Mumbai’s National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health. The results were published on 1 September 2016 in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

At 35%, India accounts for the highest burden of preterm births in the world.

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Key highlights of the research

For the first time, the researchers found that gram-positive Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria produce small balloons called membrane vesicles. These vesicles contain toxins that destroy foetal and maternal cells. They also kill the collagen that keeps the cells together.

The GBS bacteria are normally found in human vagina. Their numbers can shoot up in some pregnant women.

The GBS bacteria have been associated with premature rupture of amniotic membrane and preterm birth.

Test on pregnant mice

The team tested its hypothesis by injecting membrane vesicles into 15 pregnant mice.

All the injected mice gave birth to preterm babies and nearly 40% were born dead.

In mice, the babies were born two days preterm. This is equivalent to two months in humans as the gestation period in mice is 21 days.

The preterm babies were much smaller and unhealthy.

The researchers found that the toxins present in the vesicles fragmented the collagen of the amniotic membrane.

Fragmentation of the collagen leads to loss in elasticity and weakening of the amniotic membrane thus making it susceptible to rupture due to pressure from the growing foetus. This leads to preterm birth.

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