Preeclampsia May Stem From Malformed Proteins

Yale researchers say discovery could lead to earlier diagnosis, treatment

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FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Misfolded proteins may be the cause of preeclampsia, say Yale University researchers. And, they say, the proteins are easy to detect in urine, which could offer a new method of early diagnosis of the common and serious hypertension complication of pregnancy.

In a study of 111 pregnant women, the researchers identified key abnormal proteins in the women's urine weeks before they showed clinical signs of preeclampsia. The urine test designed by the researchers was based on a dye that sticks to misfolded, or incorrectly formed, proteins.

"These results support the hypothesis that preeclampsia is a pregnancy-specific protein misfolding disease," Dr. Irina Buhimschi, an associate professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and the study's lead author, said in a Yale news release.

"Our findings are compelling for several reasons," she said. "This novel identification of preeclampsia as a disorder of protein misfolding opens a door for researchers that may lead to testing of new drugs or developing new therapies. Our future work will seek to determine whether the different shapes employed by the misfolded proteins in preeclampsia are linked to specific clinical symptoms and the different ways this intriguing disease manifests."

The study was expected to be presented Jan. 30 at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's annual meeting in San Diego.

Preeclampsia is one of the most common causes of death in pregnant women in the United States and kills about 76,000 women worldwide each year, according to background information in the news release. The condition is also a leading cause of preterm delivery. Establishing a correct diagnosis of preeclampsia can be difficult, especially in women with preexisting hypertension, lupus or kidney disease. Currently, delivery is the only reliable treatment for preeclampsia.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about preeclampsia and eclampsia.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, Jan. 30, 2009

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