Battle in Mother's Belly Causes Preeclampsia

Father plays a role in fatal pregnancy disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy condition that results in high blood pressure and protein in the mother’s urine. Now, research shows that the father’s cells are helping wage a battle in the uterus that leads to preeclampsia.

Scientists discovered how this plays out in the mother’s body, which could help doctors prevent and treat preeclampsia in the future.

Dr. Harvey Kliman, research scientist in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine, said that in a normal pregnancy, specialized trophoblasts leave the placenta and attack and destroy the walls of the mother’s blood vessels.

This allows more blood to enter the placenta, resulting in a bigger baby – which is the primary biological objective of the father. 

"Get regular prenatal care during pregnancy."

A father’s cells are responsible for creating cells called “trophoblasts” that make up a baby’s placenta. The mother’s uterus is attached to the placenta, and as a defense mechanism, the mother’s cells may attack the trophoblasts that are trying to increase the flow of blood into the placenta, which causes preeclampsia. In a normal pregnancy, the placenta “tricks” the mother into not attacking the trophoblasts.

Here’s how it works: Special cells in the mother called lymphocytes want to attack the invading trophoblasts, so the placenta creates a diversion – by secreting a protein – to get the lymphocytes to attack elsewhere.

Kliman believes that when the biological dance between the placental diversion and the mother’s preoccupied lymphocytes is in perfect harmony, it will lead to a healthy pregnancy without preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia occurs in 6-8% of pregnancies in the U.S., 70% of which are first-time pregnancies, says the National Institutes of Health. The condition usually develops in the late 2nd or 3rd trimester of pregnancy, and can lead to serious – even fatal – complications for both the mother and baby. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby.

This observational study was published in the journal Reproductive Sciences.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 11, 2011
Last Updated:
October 12, 2011