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Inflammation in preeclampsia interferes with fetal development, study says

Researchers think the finding may help push decades of research into the condition toward finding an effective treatment.

By Stephen Feller
Preeclampsia affects between 5 and 8 percent of all pregnancies, which researchers in Germany found has a detectable effect on the formation of the placenta and growth of the fetus. Photo by Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock
Preeclampsia affects between 5 and 8 percent of all pregnancies, which researchers in Germany found has a detectable effect on the formation of the placenta and growth of the fetus. Photo by Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock

BERLIN, June 2 (UPI) -- Although the causes and mechanisms of preeclampsia are not known, researchers have found inflammation associated with the condition affects fetal growth.

Researchers in Germany found lower levels of a placental immune protein in women with preeclampsia causes inflammatory factors to increase, affecting the placenta's growth and nourishment of the fetus.

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Preeclampsia affects at least 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies, according to The Preeclampsia Foundation, causing swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision.

The receptor protein CD74, found on the surface of immune cells in the placenta, interacts with and stimulates development in the placenta. Finding that lower levels of the protein in women with preeclampsia may lead to differences in fetal growth is significant, the researchers say, and may help lead to therapies for the condition.

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"The association between CD74 receptors and preeclampsia opens up new long-term possibilities for developing a much-needed therapy that targets the root causes rather than the symptoms of the disease," Dr. Florian Herse, a senior scientist at the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine, said in a press release.

For the study, published in the journal Circulation Research, researchers reviewed medical records for 26 women with early onset preeclampsia, 24 with late-onset preeclampsia and 28 healthy women, analyzing tests for CD74 protein and developmental progress of their placentas and fetuses.

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After finding that women with preeclampsia overall had lower levels of CD74, the researchers suppressed production of the protein in cell culture tests, finding pro-inflammatory substances were released as a result. In mice without the CD74 protein, placentas grew with abnormal structural features and did not function as well as mice with the protein.

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"The reason for the disturbed placental growth is the disruption of the macrophage-trophoblast interaction, which is important for a normal pregnancy," Herse said, adding that future research may benefit from the findings as decades of research into preeclampsia has not yet yielded an effective treatment.

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