Research highlight

Insight into devastating pregnancy condition


May 12, 2008

Pre-eclampsia is a devastating condition that can erupt towards the end of pregnancy, with life-threatening consequences for mother and baby. A paper published online in Nature has identified two culprits likely to trigger pre-eclampsia if they are in short supply, opening up the possibilities of early diagnosis and even treatment of the disorder.

Raghu Kalluri and colleagues genetically engineered a pre-eclampsia-like condition in mice by preventing them from producing an enzyme called catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), which normally inactivates a class of neurotransmitters known as catecholamines. They found that the mice also failed to produce 2-methoxyoestradiol, a natural metabolite produced by COMT that normally increases during the last three months of human pregnancy.

This correlates with women with severe pre-eclampsia, whose levels of COMT and 2-methoxyoestradiol tend to be low. The authors hope that their discovery may assist diagnosis of the condition with a simple blood or urine test. They suggest that supplementation with 2-methoxyoestradiol might improve or possibly prevent pre-eclampsia.

doi: 10.1038/nature06951

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