Babies' DNA affects mothers' risk of preeclampsia

21 June 2017        

Category: Research

Some features in a baby’s DNA can increase the risk of its mother developing pre-eclampsia – a potentially dangerous condition in pregnancy - according to a study that we've part-funded.

The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Genetics the first to show an effect of DNA from the foetus on the health of its mother.

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia affects up to five per cent of pregnancies and is first suspected when a woman is found to have high blood pressure, usually in the second half of pregnancy. The condition can cause serious complications including fits, stroke, liver and blood problems and in some cases the death of mother and baby.  

Comparing DNA

During the five year study researchers investigated the genetic makeup of 4,380 babies born from pre-eclamptic pregnancies and compared their DNA with over 300,000 healthy individuals.  

The research found DNA variations close to the gene that makes a protein called sFlt-1 with significant differences between the babies born from pre-eclamptic pregnancies and the control group.

Blood vessel damage

At high levels sFlt-1 released from the placenta into the mother’s bloodstream can cause damage to her blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure and damage to her kidneys, liver and brain – all features of pre-eclampsia. If a baby carried these genetic variants it increased the risk of that pregnancy being pre-eclamptic.

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