Ribo-hormones, development of childhood obesity - Pediatric Research Foundation
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Longitudinal study on plasma ribo-hormones (microRNAs) and their roles in the development of childhood obesity

Excess weight and obesity are defined as an excessive accumulation of body fat. In Canada, 29% of children are overweight or obese and the majority (~70%) of them will remain overweight as adults. The recent rapid increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity cannot be explained by genetic evolution, and therefore points to the involvement of epigenetics, or the interface between the genome and environmental influence. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNA molecules that repress protein synthesis by binding to their target messenger RNAs. These epigenetic regulators, also called “ribo-hormones,” are secreted in the blood where they are stable, and their functions are similar to steroid hormones. Only six studies on miRNAs and childhood obesity (<8 years) have been conducted, all with small samples (n<20) and none prospectively, as is possible with our Gen3G birth cohort.

The hypothesis is that miRNAs play a role in regulating energy metabolism, fat mass accumulation and the development of obesity during childhood. The study proposes to identify umbilical cord blood miRNAs associated with BMI and fat mass at 5 years of age; and to establish the causal role of microRNAs in childhood fat mass accumulation through miR-eQTL identification and Mendelian randomization.


In addition to gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in the development of childhood obesity, this study is an opportunity to identify umbilical cord blood miRNAs that predict the risk of obesity at age 5. Researchers will use machine learning-based analytical strategies to identify predictor miRNAs. Sensitivity, specificity, and negative and positive predictive values will be calculated using receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves. This study opens the door to microtranscriptome analysis of participants at age 5 and longitudinal analysis.


Principal researcher

  • Dr. Luigi Bouchard, Professor, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences FMSS Department of Biochemistry and Genomics Function, University of Sherbrooke


  • CHU Québec Research Centre, Department of Pediatrics, Université Laval: Isabelle Marc
  • CHUS Research Centre and Université de Sherbrooke: Professor Marie Brunet, Professor Pierre-Étienne Jacques, Dr. Patrice Perron
  • FRQS scholarship holder: Katrine Thibeault
  • Harvard University: Dr. Marie France Hivert

Research Center

  • CIUSSS SLSJ Research Centre and Université de Sherbrooke

Funded year


Project category

  • Metabolic and cardiovascular health