The development of blood protein profiles in extremely preterm infants follows a stereotypic evolution pattern

Commun Med (Lond). 2023 Aug 2;3(1):107. doi: 10.1038/s43856-023-00338-1.


Background: Preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity. Early diagnosis and interventions are critical to improving the clinical outcomes of extremely premature infants. Blood protein profiling during the first months of life in preterm infants can shed light on the role of early extrauterine development and provide an increased understanding of maturation after extremely preterm birth and the underlying mechanisms of prematurity-related disorders.

Methods: We have investigated the blood protein profiles during the first months of life in preterm infants on the role of early extrauterine development. The blood protein levels were analyzed using next generation blood profiling on 1335 serum samples, collected longitudinally at nine time points from birth to full-term from 182 extremely preterm infants.

Results: The protein analysis reveals evident predestined serum evolution patterns common for all included infants. The majority of the variations in blood protein expression are associated with the postnatal age of the preterm infants rather than any other factors. There is a uniform protein pattern on postnatal day 1 and after 30 weeks postmenstrual age (PMA), independent of gestational age (GA). However, during the first month of life, GA had a significant impact on protein variability.

Conclusions: The unified pattern of protein development for all included infants suggests an age-dependent stereotypic development of blood proteins after birth. This knowledge should be considered in neonatal settings and might alter the clinical approach within neonatology, where PMA is today the most dominant age variable.

Plain language summary

Being born too early can affect a baby’s health. We looked at how babies born extremely preterm, meaning more than 12 weeks earlier than a full-term baby, develop. We looked at the proteins present in their blood from the day they were born until their original due date. Our study of 182 extremely preterm babies born at different points in the pregnancy (gestational ages) found that the proteins present in their blood changed in a similar way over time. This means that the age of a baby after birth, and not how early they were born, mostly affects the proteins in their blood. These findings help us understand how extremely preterm babies develop after birth, which could lead to improvements to their healthcare during the first few weeks of their life.