Molecules in Blood Signal Preeclampsia

By  ,  National Institute of Health
Jan 18, 2013

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High levels of 2 proteins in the blood of pregnant women may be a warning sign of preeclampsia, a life-threatening complication of pregnancy.

Preeclampsia often occurs without warning.  It may begin with mild symptoms, but can progress to severe preeclampsia and then to eclampsia—dangerously high blood pressure and convulsions.  When preeclampsia is not severe, the high blood pressure it causes can usually be treated in the short term.  Unfortunately, the only cure for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby.

The levels of two proteins circulating in the blood called sFlt1 and PlGF appear to be involved in the development of preeclampsia.  Another protein called endoglin acts together with sFlt1 to induce a severe preeclampsia-like syndrome in pregnant rats.  Researchers thus set out to see whether endoglin might also be associated with preeclampsia in women.

They found that levels of endoglin were significantly higher in those women who, 2-3 months later, went on to develop preeclampsia.  An increased level of endoglin was usually accompanied by increased levels of sFlt1.  The risk of preeclampsia was greater for those women with the highest levels of both, but not for either alone.

High levels of both endoglin and sFlt1 early in pregnancy might be a useful early sign of preeclampsia.  However, attempts to develop drug treatments targeting these proteins need to proceed carefully.  Restoring normal blood pressure and blood flow to the mother could potentially harm the fetus.


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