Health In Focus
  • Preeclampsia is a serious complication during pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure that endangers the health of both mother and baby.
  • Current study is the first to show that certain features in the baby’s DNA may actually increase the risk of preeclampsia in the mother.

Changes in fetal DNA could influence the occurrence of preeclampsia in the mother in a first of its kind international study published in Nature Genetics. The work was conducted by genetics experts from the UK, the Nordic countries and Central Asia.

Fetal DNA and Preeclampsia - Unravelling the Mystery
Preeclampsia Risk In Mother Increased By Specific DNA Variants in Fetus

It has long been known that a woman has a higher risk of suffering from preeclampsia during her pregnancy if her mother or sister had a similar history.

However, many recent studies have shown that preeclampsia also runs in the families of men who father pregnancies associated with preeclampsia. To put it in other words, the daughter-in-law of a woman who had preeclampsia may also be at higher risk of preeclampsia.

Additionally, faulty placenta has been known to be associated with many preeclamptic pregnancies. And interestingly, it is the baby's genes that form the placenta.

Going by the above mentioned facts that paternal genes that increase the risk of preeclampsia in the pregnant woman, can only come from the fetus, and the fact that fetal genes contribute to the faulty placenta, the research team embarked on the current study to see if they could identify a significant association between fetal genes and preeclampsia.

Fetal DNA and Preeclampsia - Details of The Study

The 5-year InterPregGen study included teams from the UK, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The project involved collecting DNA samples contributed from Iceland, Norway and Finland as well as from over 20 universities and maternity units in the UK. The work was coordinated by Dr Linda Morgan, from the University of Nottingham's School of Life Sciences.
  • The study teams assessed the genetic make-up of 4,380 babies born from preeclamptic pregnancies and compared their DNA with over 300,000 healthy individuals.
  • Laboratory testing performed at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (UK) and deCODE Genetics (Iceland) identified the location in the baby's DNA associated with increased risk of preeclampsia, which was confirmed by other InterPregGen members.
  • Significant differences were found in the DNA region of babies of preeclampsia pregnancies near the gene which encoded production and release of the sFlt-1 protein by the placenta into the maternal blood.
  • High levels sFlt-1 released into the mother's bloodstream damage her blood vessels, resulting in high blood pressure, damage to her kidney function, liver and brain -- all features of preeclampsia.
  • A baby that carried the DNA variants associated with increased sFlt-1 protein production increased maternal risk of preeclampsia.
  • Says Dr Morgan, "We found there were indeed some features in a baby's DNA that can increase the risk of pre-eclampsia."
However, the DNA changes seen in eclampsia are fairly common and are by themselves not sufficient to cause the disease, although they increase the risk.

Scope of The Study
  • The findings of the current study could help in gaining more insight into the mechanisms involved in the causation of preeclampsia. With more pieces of the genetic jigsaw puzzle falling in place, it might be possible to predict women at high risk for development of preeclampsia in combination with relevant clinical data.
  • DNA from an additional 4,220 babies from preeclamptic gestations in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is currently being studied in an extended study to see if the same variations are present near sFlt-1 gene.
Dr Morgan concludes: "Because pre-eclampsia has its origins in the very early stages of pregnancy, during the formation of the placenta, research into the causes and processes of the disease has always been challenging. Now modern genome wide screening and its data analysis allows us to look for clues in the mother's, father's and their baby's DNA. We believe the new insights from this study could form the basis for more effective prevention and treatment of pre-eclampsia in the future, and improve the outcome of pregnancy for mother and child."

References :
  1. Fetal and maternal contributions to risk of pre-eclampsia: population based study - (
  2. The genetics of pre-eclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy - (

Source: Medindia

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