Finnish mothers ‘carry gene variants protecting them from pre-eclampsia’

Some Finnish mothers carry rare gene variants that protect them from pre-eclampsia, also known as toxemia of pregnancy, according to a new study by the University of Helsinki, Finland, in co-operation with two research groups in the US.

It is the first time that mothers' genotypes have been proven to contain factors that protect against pre-eclampsia.

Roughly five per cent of pregnant women suffer from pre-eclampsia, one of the most common causes of maternal deaths and premature births. Scientists have not been able to determine the underlying cause of pre-eclampsia, but the disease is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases among mothers and their children later in life.

The researchers explained that susceptibility to pre-eclampsia is hereditary, with those women who have a family history of this disease on the mother's or father's side experiencing an increased risk.

Inkeri Lokki, who is completing her doctoral dissertation on the subject, said: “We chose candidate genes that were interesting in terms of pre-eclampsia, and studied the variation found in them among patients and healthy people.

“The sFlt-1 protein is known to be linked to pre-eclampsia, and we found two single nucleotide polymorphisms in the gene that codes this protein. Pre-eclampsia is less common among mothers who carry these mutations than it is among other mothers.”

Too much sFlt-1 protein in the body is known to cause vascular disorders. The researchers explained that the amount of the sFlt-1 protein in the blood of the women who developed pre-eclampsia had increased before they fell ill.

Ms Lokki said that it seems that those women carrying gene variants protecting them from pre-eclampsia were less likely to experience cardiac failure than other women.

Hannele Laivuori, adjunct professor and head of the research group at the University of Helsinki, added that the specific genetic makeup of the Finnish population enables new discoveries to be made regarding multifactorial diseases.

She went on to say that the gene variants identified in the study that protect their carriers from pre-eclampsia are more than ten times more common among Finns than in other populations.ADNFCR-2094-ID-801837498-ADNFCR