A major new international study has revealed for the first time that some features in a baby’s DNA can increase the risk of its mother developing pre-eclampsia — a potentially dangerous condition in pregnancy.
These results from the InterPregGen study are published in Nature Genetics. The work was carried out by genetics experts from the UK, Nordic countries and Central Asia and is the first to show an effect of DNA from the fetus on the health of its mother.
Pre-eclampsia affects up to 5% of pregnancies and is first suspected when a woman is found to have high blood pressure, usually in the second half of pregnancy. The condition can cause serious complications including fits, stroke, liver and blood problems and in some cases the death of mother and baby.
The 5-year study involved teams from the UK, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. They studied the genetic make-up of 4,380 babies born from pre-eclamptic pregnancies and compared their DNA with over 300,000 healthy individuals.
Dr Linda Morgan, from the University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences, coordinated the 5-year study, which included DNA samples contributed from Iceland, Norway and Finland as well as from over 20 universities and maternity units in the UK.
Dr Morgan says: “For many years midwives and obstetricians have known that a woman is more likely to develop pre-eclampsia if her mother or sister had the disorder. More recently research has shown that the condition also runs in the families of men who father pre-eclamptic pregnancies. We knew that faulty formation of the placenta is often found in pre-eclampsia. As it is the baby’s genes that produce the placenta we set out to see if we could find a link between the baby’s DNA and the condition. We found there were indeed some features in a baby’s DNA that can increase the risk of pre-eclampsia.”
Laboratory and statistical analysis performed at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (UK) and deCODE Genetics (Iceland) pinpointed the location in the baby’s DNA that increases risk of pre-eclampsia. This location was confirmed by other InterPregGen members to fit hand-in-glove…