OBJECTIVE: To identify the tissue expression patterns and biological pathways enriched in term amniotic fluid cell-free fetal RNA by comparing functional genomic analyses of term and second-trimester amniotic fluid supernatants.
METHODS: This was a prospective whole genome microarray study comparing eight amniotic fluid samples collected from women at term who underwent prelabor cesarean delivery and eight second-trimester amniotic fluid samples from routine amniocenteses. A functional annotation tool was used to compare tissue expression patterns in term and second-trimester samples. Pathways analysis software identified physiologic systems, molecular and cellular functions, and upstream regulators that were significantly overrepresented in term amniotic fluid.
RESULTS: There were 2,871 significantly differentially regulated genes. In term amniotic fluid, tissue expression analysis showed enrichment of salivary gland, tracheal, and renal transcripts as compared with brain and embryonic neural cells in the second trimester. Functional analysis of genes upregulated at term revealed pathways that were highly specific for postnatal adaptation such as immune function, digestion, respiration, carbohydrate metabolism, and adipogenesis. Inflammation and prostaglandin synthesis, two key processes involved in normal labor, were also activated in term amniotic fluid.
CONCLUSIONS: Transcriptomic analysis of amniotic fluid cell-free fetal RNA detects fetal maturation processes activated in term pregnancy. These findings further develop the concept of amniotic fluid supernatant as a real-time gene expression “summary fluid” and support its potential for future studies of fetal development.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: II