Estimating the relative contributions of maternal genetic, paternal genetic and intrauterine factors to offspring birth weight and head circumference

Early Hum Dev. 2010 Jul;86(7):425-32. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2010.05.021. Epub 2010 Jun 20.


Background: Genetic factors and the prenatal environment contribute to birth weight. However, very few types of study design can disentangle their relative contribution.

Aims: To examine maternal genetic and intrauterine contributions to offspring birth weight and head circumference. To compare the contribution of maternal and paternal genetic effects.

Study design: Mothers and fathers were either genetically related or unrelated to their offspring who had been conceived by in vitro fertilization.

Subjects: 423 singleton full term offspring, of whom 262 were conceived via homologous IVF (both parents related), 66 via sperm donation (mother only related) and 95 via egg donation (father only related).

Measures: Maternal weight at antenatal booking, current weight and maternal height. Paternal current weight and height were all predictors. Infant birth weight and head circumference were outcomes.

Results: Genetic relatedness was the main contributing factor between measures of parental weight and offspring birth weight as correlations were only significant when the parent was related to the child. However, there was a contribution of the intrauterine environment to the association between maternal height and both infant birth weight and infant head circumference as these were significant even when mothers were unrelated to their child.

Conclusions: Both maternal and paternal genes made contributions to infant birth weight. Maternal height appeared to index a contribution of the intrauterine environment to infant growth and gestational age. Results suggested a possible biological interaction between the intrauterine environment and maternal inherited characteristics which suppresses the influence of paternal genes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight / genetics*
  • Body Height / genetics
  • Body Size / genetics*
  • Body Weight / genetics
  • Fathers
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / genetics*
  • Fetal Development / physiology
  • Gestational Age
  • Head / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Pregnancy