A gene important in autoimmune disease has been linked to pre-eclampsia, a serious complication of pregnancy. The study from scientists at North Carolina State University looked at the genes that are switched on and off in the human placenta, to find genes that are differently expressed in pre-eclampsia.
The researchers found that, in placentas from women who had pre-eclampsia, a gene called sialic acid acetylesterase (SIAE) produces more than the normal amount of sialic acid acetylesterase protein. Mutations in the same gene have previously been linked to autoimmune disease. SIAE is thought to help regulate the activity of the immune system.
The researchers also linked a number of other genes involved with the immune system to pre-eclampsia, as well as confirming the involvement of genes previously implicated in pre-eclampsia development.
Earlier research suggested that preeclampsia happens when the mother's immune system starts to reject the placenta during pregnancy, treating it like an invading organism. This study provides a new link between the immune system and pre-eclampsia.
Pre-eclampsia causes high blood pressure and fluid retention during pregnancy, due to problems with the placenta, and can lead to problems with fetal development. It can also develop in rare cases to eclampsia, which is life threatening and associated with high maternal mortality.
Understanding more about the genetic mechanisms behind pre-eclampsia may lead to improved screening for the disorder. The study was published in the February 2011 issue of the journal Placenta.