The first discovery of a fetal genetic link to preeclampsia is reported in a study published online this week in Nature Genetics.
Preeclampsia is condition in pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and often a significant amount of protein in the urine. Although it affects 5% of pregnancies and is a leading cause of maternal and perinatal death, its causes remain poorly understood. Previous studies have focused on maternal genome sequences, but no associations with preeclampsia have been found.
Linda Morgan and colleagues performed a genome-wide association study focusing on the children of women with preeclamptic pregnancies, which allowed them to identify two novel variants that were significantly associated with preeclampsia. The variants identified were close to the FLT1 gene, which encodes a receptor that mediates the formation of new blood vessels. A form of this receptor, originating from the placenta, has been implicated in preeclampsia pathology in previous studies. The authors note that this is the first genetic variation identified as being associated with risk for preeclampsia. They conclude that their results suggest a need for further study of the FLT1 gene and related pathways to gain further understanding about the development of preeclampsia.