Fetal Effects of Mild Maternal COVID-19 Infection: Metabolomic profiling of cord blood

Onur Turkoglu, Beaumont Health Fellow
Ali Alhousseini, Beaumont Health
Sonia Sajja, Beaumont Health Fellow
Jay Idler, Beaumont Health
Nadia Ashrafi, Beaumont Health
Ali Yilmaz
Kurt Wharton, Beaumont Health
Stewart F. Graham, Beaumont Health
Ray O. Bahado-Singh, Beaumont Health


Introduction: The impact of maternal coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection on fetal health remains to be precisely characterized. Objectives: Using metabolomic profiling of newborn umbilical cord blood, we aimed to investigate the potential fetal biological consequences of maternal COVID-19 infection. Methods: : Cord blood serum samples from 23 mild COVID-19 cases (mother infected/ newborn negative) and 23 gestational age-matched controls were analyzed using nuclear magnetic spectroscopy and liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry. Metabolite set enrichment analysis (MSEA) was used to evaluate altered biochemical pathways due to COVID-19 intrauterine exposure. Logistic regression models were developed using metabolites to predict intrauterine exposure. Results: : Significant concentration differences between groups (p-value <0.05) were observed in 19 metabolites. Elevated levels of glucocorticoids, pyruvate, lactate, purine metabolites, phenylalanine and branched chain amino acids of valine and isoleucine were discovered in cases while ceramide subclasses were decreased. The top metabolite model including cortisol and ceramide (d18:1/23:0) achieved an Area under the Receiver Operating Characteristics curve (95% CI) = 0.841 (0.725 - 0.957) for detecting fetal exposure to maternal COVID-19 infection. MSEA highlighted steroidogenesis, pyruvate metabolism, gluconeogenesis, and Warburg effect as the major perturbed metabolic pathways (p-value < 0.05). These changes indicate fetal increased oxidative metabolism, hyperinsulinemia, and inflammatory response. Conclusion: We present fetal biochemical changes related to intrauterine inflammation, altered energy metabolism in cases of mild maternal COVID-19 infection despite the absence of viral infection. Elucidation of the long-term consequences of these findings is imperative considering the large number of exposures in the population.