Fetus secretes hormone that could flag preeclampsia risk

The hormone adrenomedullin is secreted by the fetus during pregnancy and appears to keep pregnant women from developing preeclampsia. And scientists believe it could become an effective biomarker to help pinpoint patients more likely to develop the dangerous condition.

A team from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine made the finding in a study using mice. Its research is published in detail in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The finding is critical in that one in 15 pregnancies face preeclampsia, where placenta blood vessels don't dilate to handle greater blood flow to the fetus. Without treatment, the condition can become life-threatening to both mother and child. Others have developed or are developing preeclampsia tests with other biomarkers in mind. But this latest effort has promise because using adrenomedullin levels as a biomarker could give physicians a way to spot pregnant women who are vulnerable to the condition before it hits, allowing them to give preemptive care. The research team said it was encouraged enough by the results that it will pursue future studies on human patients with a focus on adrenomedullin patterns and preeclampsia in pregnant women.

For this initial preclinical study, however, researchers looked at genetically programmed mice that generated lower or higher levels of adrenomedullin. Their results determined that the fetus secretes adrenomedullin into the placenta during a normal pregnancy during the second trimester. The hormone works in turn to signal natural killer cells to dilate the mother's blood vessels so the fetus can get more blood.

"We really don't know that a pregnant woman is going to get preeclampsia until she has it," senior study author Kathleen Caron, assistant dean for research at the UNC School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement. "Identifying molecules that could predict preeclampsia would be really important."

- read the release
- here's the research

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