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Study Suggests Origins of Pregnancy-Linked High Blood Pressure
Date:10/11/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous spike in blood pressure during pregnancy, may be due to a microscopic battle going on within the placenta between cells directed by the father's genes and those directed by the mother, a new study suggests.

Though not the first research to link preeclampsia with the activity of cells in the placenta, the new report adds more details about the underlying mechanism that may be causing the problem.

During prenatal growth, certain genes are expressed or repressed, depending on their parental origin. In the placenta, the father's gene expression dominates.

In a normal pregnancy, trophoblasts, a father-directed cell, invade and attack the blood vessels that bring blood from the mother into the placenta. The trophoblasts attach to the walls of blood vessels, increasing the flow of blood and enabling the baby to grow and receive the nutrients it needs to thrive, explained study author Dr. Harvey Kliman, a research scientist in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine.

But at the same time, the mother's immune system cells (lymphocytes) rush to kill the invasive trophoblasts. If the lymphocytes succeed in killing the trophoblasts, then there isn't enough blood flow to the placenta -- causing blood pressure to rise.

"The placenta is responsible for keeping the fetus alive. It will do whatever is necessary to do that," Kliman said. "The placenta has a sensor, a molecular mechanism that senses how much blood is flowing into the placenta. If there's not enough blood, you will become hypertensive."

Though his research didn't investigate that mechanism specifically, it's well known that an obstruction to blood flow to another organ, the kidney, leads quickly to primary renal hypertension, a type of high blood pressure. The placenta, h
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