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Pre-eclampsia Study Finds Auto-antibody link 2007-04-12

Posted by clype in Health, Science.
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Women who develop pre-eclampsia during pregnancy are more likely to develop certain dangerous auto-antibodies than women with normal pregnancies, and these auto-antibodies are still present two years after childbirth in about 20 percent of women who had the disorder, scientists from ‘The University of Pittsburgh’ report in the March issue of ‘Hypertension’, the journal of ‘The American Heart Association’.

Also known as toxemia, pre-eclampsia affects some 5 percent of pregnancies and is a leading cause of maternal and fetal illness and death, particularly in developing nations. Signs include high blood pressure, swelling of the ankles and the presence of protein in the urine. The condition typically appears after the mid-point of pregnancy.

  • The only effective treatment is immediate delivery, which can be dangerous for the baby if it is too early.
  • Untreated, the condition can lead to organ failure, coma and death.
  • Pre-eclampsia also has been linked to an increased lifetime risk for heart disease.

The study’s lead author, Associate Investigator at the university-affiliated ‘Magee-Womens Research Institute’, and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at ‘The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’, Mr.Carl A. Hubel, Ph.D. said:

Further study is required to determine whether the presence of these auto-antibodies could be an early marker for preeclampsia risk, but early data are promising.

‘Learning more about these auto-antibodies also might enable us to identify a subset of women who are at greater risk for heart disease later in life, and give us a closer understanding of what causes pre-eclampsia.”

For most women, the autoantibodies eventually go away after pregnancy.

‘But in some, they persist or re-appear, consistent with other data showing that many of the risk factors for pre-eclampsia are the same as those for cardiovascular disease,’ added Mr.Hubel.

Auto-antibodies are immune system proteins
that attack the body’s own cells
instead of micro-organisms
that represent a real threat,
such as viruses, bacteria or other toxins.

Mr.Hubel and his colleagues studied the development of auto-antibodies capable of activating the angiotensin II type 1 receptor (AT1-AA).

The AT1 receptor is part of an amino acid group that works within cells to maintain healthy blood vessels and manage inflammation.

Too much AT1 receptor activation, such as takes place when the auto-antibodies are present, can lead to high blood pressure and inflammation.

‘These antibodies are similar to antibodies in other conditions, such as those related to the auto-immune thyroid disorder “Grave’s disease”,’ said Mr. Hubel.

‘These kinds of antibodies also are related to high blood pressure, which is one of the signs of preeclampsia.

‘Women with a history of pre-eclampsia have a substantially higher cardiovascular risk later in life, compared to women who experienced normal pregnancies.’

While the cause of pre-eclampsia remains unknown, evidence is mounting that the disorder relates to poor formation and placement of the placenta combined with underlying maternal factors including insulin resistance, obesity and inflammation that are magnified during the physiological stress of pregnancy.

Elevated levels of AT1-AA are evident in nearly all women with pre-eclampsia, the researchers report.

Blood samples from 29 women with pre-eclampsia and 35 women who had normal pregnancies at ‘Magee-Women’s Hospital’ of ‘UPMC’ in Pittsburgh and ‘Massachusetts General Hospital’ in Boston were studied. The samples were collected between six months and two years postpartum to allow for stabilization of normal, pregnancy-induced cardiovascular changes.

‘AT1-AA were detected in 17.2 percent of postpartum women who had developed pre-eclampsia, as opposed to 2.9 percent of postpartum women whose pregnancies were uncomplicated,’ said Mr.Hubel.

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