Animal study reveals how a fever early in pregnancy can cause birth defects | Science News

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Animal study reveals how a fever early in pregnancy can cause birth defects

In chicken embryos, a rise in incubation temperature alone can disrupt normal development

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2:00pm, October 18, 2017
incubating chick

BASIC BEAK  The red- and blue-stained facial features of this chick, which was incubated under standard laboratory temperatures, reveal an upper beak that is developing properly.

Certain birth defects of the face and heart can occur when babies’ mothers have a fever during the first trimester of pregnancy, a crucial time in an embryo’s development. Now scientists have figured out the molecular players that make it so.  

In an experiment with chicken embryos, a temporary rise in incubation temperature — meant to mimic feverlike conditions — was enough to produce defects to the face and heart. The elevation in a growing embryo’s temperature, called hyperthermia, impacts the activity of heat-sensitive channels that are present in cells necessary for an embryo’s development, researchers report online October 10 in Science Signaling.

Although a connection between fever and these birth defects has been known for decades, says coauthor Eric Benner, a neonatologist at Duke University School of Medicine, there has been some debate as to

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