Dunwoodie's group then went on to test the genetic risk factor in a mouse model combined with an environmental insult in the form of hypoxia. Surprisingly, they found a marked increase in spinal abnormalities in the offspring, when the mothers were exposed to only 8 hours of low oxygen during an entire 21‐day pregnancy
"We found that the combination of the genetic risk as well as exposure to low oxygen, resulted in our subjects being up to 10 times more likely to develop congenital scoliosis, than those that only had the genetic risk factor
," says Dunwoodie.
"What this brief period of low oxygen essentially did was disrupt the pathway responsible for development of the spine, and we know that the same pathway is used in the development of limbs and many organs, including the heart, kidneys, brain and cranio‐facial region," adds Dunwoodie.
Bob Graham, a professor and executive director of the cardiac research institute, says around 25 percent of patients with congenital scoliosis also have some form of congenital heart defect, indicating that a single environmental 'insult' such as hypoxia, can potentially affect the development of more than one organ in the body.