Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the US, with the prevalence projected to keep
rising. The origins of CVD begin early in life, including child obesity and atherosclerotic plaque formation, which
predict later CVD. To address the origins of CVD, the American Heart Association created 2020 Impact Goals
emphasizing promotion of cardiovascular health early in life, which includes measures of both physical risk
factors (e.g., body mass index [BMI], blood pressure) and health behavior (e.g., diet). Stress in the prenatal
period is hypothesized to contribute to CVD in adulthood. However, little is known about plausible biological
mechanisms. The focus of this proposal is to assess the role of placental corticotrophin-releasing hormone
(CRH), an understudied stress responsive hormone that regulates fetal development and birth outcomes, in
offspring CVD risk (BMI z-score, waist circumference, and blood pressure) and obesogenic eating behaviors.
This project will utilize a longitudinal design to prospectively follow a sample of mother-child dyads (n = 150).
Placental CRH was assessed as a part of a NIMH-funded study (R01MH109662) through maternal blood
samples at three timepoints during pregnancy (10, 24, and 34 gestational weeks). Child CVD risk (BMI z-score,
waist circumference, and blood pressure) and obesogenic eating behaviors are being assessed as a part of a
follow-up NHLBI-funded study (R01HL155744) at a laboratory visit when the children are 3-years-old. The
current project has two aims: Aim 1: To test the hypothesis that rapid increases in placental CRH across
gestation predict greater offspring CVD risk at three years of age; and Aim 2: To test the hypothesis that
increased placental CRH production across gestation predicts greater offspring obesogenic eating behaviors.
Identifying the associations between placental CRH across gestation and both offspring CVD risk and
obesogenic eating behaviors will elucidate early origins of cardiovascular health and provide targets for early
prevention and intervention. While conducting the proposed study, the applicant will gain essential training at the
University of Denver that strongly supports her goal of becoming an independent NIH-funded researcher. The
applicant’s goals include 1) increasing understanding of the prenatal period as a sensitive period, focusing on
prenatal stress physiology (e.g., placental CRH); 2) developing expertise in the assessment of CVD risk during
early childhood; 3) developing expertise in the assessment of eating behaviors during early childhood; 4) learning
advanced statistical modeling of longitudinal data; and 5) developing grant writing skills. The completion of these
training objectives, along with the strong mentorship from the project sponsor (Elysia Davis, PhD) and co-
mentors (Jenalee Doom, PhD, Deborah Glueck, PhD, Julie Lumeng, MD, and Benjamin Hankin, PhD), will
support this applicant’s career trajectory toward becoming an independent researcher.