Background: The objective of this study was to determine sex-specific differences in inflammatory cytokine responses to red blood cell (RBC) transfusion in preterm infants in the neonatal period and their relationship to later neurocognitive status.
Methods: Infants with a birth weight <1000 g and gestational age 22-29 weeks were enrolled in the Transfusion of Prematures (TOP) trial. The total number of transfusions was used as a marker of transfusion status. Nineteen cytokines and biomarkers were analyzed from 71 infants longitudinally during the neonatal period. Twenty-six infants completed the Bayley Scales of Infant & Toddler Development, 3rd Edition (Bayley-III) at 12 months’ corrected age.
Results: Nine cytokine levels were significantly elevated in proportion to the number of transfusions received. Of those, one cytokine showed a sex-specific finding (p = 0.004): monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, MCP-1, rose substantially in females (8.9% change per additional transfusion), but not in males (-0.8% change). Higher concentrations of MCP-1 exclusively were associated with worse Bayley-III scores: decreased cognitive raw scores (p = 0.0005) and motor scaled scores (p < 0.0001).
Conclusions: This study provides evidence of a sex-specific difference in the inflammatory response to RBC transfusions during neonatal life, with MCP-1 levels rising only in females and inversely correlating with neurocognitive status at 12 months old.