Polyphenol-rich pomegranate juice has been shown to have benefit as a neuroprotectant in animal models of neonatal hypoxic-ischemia. No published studies have investigated maternal polyphenol administration as a potential neuroprotectant in at-risk newborns, such as those with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR).
This was a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind pilot study to investigate the impact of maternal pomegranate juice intake in pregnancies with IUGR, on newborn brain structure and function at term-equivalent age (TEA). Mothers with IUGR at 24–34 weeks’ gestation were recruited from Barnes-Jewish Hospital obstetrical clinic. Consented mothers were randomized to treatment (8 oz. pomegranate juice) or placebo (8 oz. polyphenol-free juice) and continued to take juice daily from enrollment until delivery (mean 20.1 and 27.1 days, respectively). Infants underwent brain MRI at TEA (36–41 weeks’ gestation).
Brain measures were compared between groups including: brain injury score, brain metrics, brain volumes, diffusion tensor imaging and resting state functional connectivity. Statistical analyses were undertaken as modified intention-to-treat (including randomized participants who received their allocated intervention and whose infants received brain MRI) and per-protocol (including participants who strictly adhered to the protocol, based on metabolite status). Seventy-seven mothers were randomized to treatment (n = 40) or placebo (n = 37). Of these, 28 and 27 infants, respectively, underwent term-equivalent MRI.
There were no group differences in brain injury, metrics or volumes. However, treatment subjects displayed reduced diffusivity within the anterior and posterior limbs of the internal capsule compared with placebo. Resting state functional connectivity demonstrated increased correlation and covariance within several networks in treatment subjects, with alterations most apparent in the visual network in per-protocol analyses. Direct effects on health were not found.
In conclusion, maternal pomegranate juice intake in pregnancies with known IUGR was associated with altered white matter organization and functional connectivity in the infant brain, suggesting differences in brain structure and function following in utero pomegranate juice exposure, warranting continued investigation.
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