Mechanistic pathways linking maternal polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) status with gestational length are poorly delineated. This study examined whether inflammation and sleep quality serve as mediators, focusing on the antiinflammatory ω-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n3) and proinflammatory ω-6 arachidonic acid (AA; 20:4n6). Pregnant women (n = 135) provided a blood sample and completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) at 20-27 weeks gestation. Red blood cell (RBC) fatty acid levels were determined by gas chromatography and serum inflammatory markers [interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, tumor necrosis factor-α, IL-1β, and C-reactive protein] by electrochemiluminescence using high sensitivity kits. Both higher serum IL-8 (95% CI = 0.10,3.84) and poor sleep (95% CI = 0.03,0.28) served as significant mediators linking lower DHA:AA ratios with shorter gestation. Further, a serial mediation model moving from the DHA:AA ratio → sleep → IL-8 → length of gestation was statistically significant (95% CI = 0.02, 0.79). These relationships remained after adjusting for depressive symptoms, age, BMI, income, race, and smoking. No interactions with race were observed in relation to length of gestation as a continuous variable. However, a significant interaction between race and the DHA:AA ratio in predicting preterm birth was observed (p = 0.049); among African Americans only, odds of preterm birth decreased as DHA:AA increased (p = 0.048). These data support a role for both inflammatory pathways and sleep quality in linking less optimal RBC PUFA status with shorter gestation in African American and European American women and suggest that African-Americans have greater risk for preterm birth in the context of a low DHA:AA ratio.

PMID: 26859301

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