Researchers at Vanderbilt University, Washington University and the University of Helsinki say a strong association to pre-term births was found in variants of the follicle stimulating hormone receptor gene, the BBC reported Thursday.
Follicle stimulating hormone acts on receptors in the ovaries to encourage the development of a follicle, a sphere of cells containing an egg, and production of the hormone estrogen.
In the United Kingdom, one in 10 babies is born before the 37th week of pregnancy with potential risk of health problems.
"Ideally we'd like to predict which women are at greatest risk for having pre-term birth and be able to prevent it," Louis Muglia, from the department of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, said. "That would really have an impact on infant mortality and the long-term complications of being born prematurely."
Professor Ronald Lamont of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the risk of premature birth is likely a mix of genetic and environmental factors.
"In the future we will be able to identify a percentage of people at risk," he said. "It won't be the be all and end all, but it will contribute to our knowledge."