Genetic study reveals pre-eclampsia risk factors

Health news

A large international study has revealed that the genetic risk of pre-eclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition in pregnancy, is related to blood pressure and body mass index (BMI). 

Dr Nigel Simpson is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Medicine at the University, honorary consultant with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and a member of the research team. He said: “The new insights from this study could form the basis for more effective prevention and treatment of pre-eclampsia, and improve the outcome of pregnancy for mother and child.

“Scientists have long suspected that genetics plays a part in predisposing some women to pre-eclampsia. This study is revealing how that happens.”

Pre-eclampsia affects up to 5% of pregnant women and contributes to the death of an estimated 50,000 women and up to 1 million babies worldwide every year. The condition is also known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease among mothers and their children in later life.

There is an inherited risk, with women with a family history of pre-eclampsia at greater risk of developing the condition themselves.

In the study – known as the InterPregGen Study researchers from the UK, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan looked at how maternal genetic variation among european and central Asian women influenced the risk of pre-eclampsia.  Researchers studied the genetic make-up of 9,515 women with pre-eclampsia and 157,719 pregnant women without the condition. 

Genetic variants linked to pre-eclampsia

The findings –"Genetic predisposition to hypertension is associated with pre-eclampsia in European and Central Asian women" – reported in Nature Communications, pinpointed DNA variants in the ZNF831 and FTO genes as risk factors for pre-eclampsia. These genes are associated with blood pressure, and the FTO variant also with body mass index. Further analysis revealed other blood pressure related variants in the MECOM, FGF5 and SH2B3 genes which are also linked with pre-eclampsia.

These latest findings complement earlier analysis by the same researchers, which showed that a variant near the FLT1 gene in the developing baby affects the mother’s risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

High blood pressure and obesity are known maternal risk factors in pre-eclampsia and the latest research findings partly explain why that is the case. Whether the remaining unidentified factors act through the maternal or fetal genome, or both, remains to be seen.

Other members of the research team at Leeds were Professor James Walker, from the School of Medicine, and research midwife Viv Dolby.

The five-year study was coordinated by University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences and funded by a 6 million Euro grant from the European Commission.

Further information

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