Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine a sign the kidneys are stressed - and restricted growth of the fetus. It can also cause long-term damage to the mother's blood vessels, kidneys and liver. The condition causes approximately 76,000 maternal and half a million infant deaths worldwide each year. The symptomsheadaches, nausea, swelling, achescan be indistinguishable from those of ordinary pregnancy, which can complicate diagnosis. Risk factors include first pregnancy, multiple fetuses, obesity, maternal age greater than 35 and a maternal history of diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease. Researchers suspect many different causes for the condition, and although mild cases may be treated with dietary modifications, bed rest and blood pressure medication, birth is the only cure, Goulopoulou said.
Goulopoulou is looking for a molecular explanation for what triggers Toll-like receptor 9 to signal the body's inflammatory response, leading to vessel constriction. "When vessels in the uterus constrict, it inhibits blood flow, oxygen and nutrient supply to the baby," she said. "So, increased uterine constriction could be responsible for restricting the baby's growth." Women with preeclampsia often have underweight and underdeveloped babies.
By injecting mitochondria from placental cells into pregnant rats, Goulopoulou expects to see an inflammatory response and symptoms of preeclampsia. She will also measure the levels of mitochondrial DNA in the circulation of women with preeclampsia.
"One of the main objectives of this study is to discover why and how activation of Toll-like receptor 9 by mitochondrial DNA causes abnormal function of the blood vessels,"
|Contact: Jennifer Hilliard Scott|
Georgia Health Sciences University