Simple test could predict preeclampsia at six weeks of pregnancy

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published November 20, 2015

Key Takeaways

Researchers have discovered a biomarker that can predict the development of preeclampsia as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, according to a presentation given November 20, 2015 at the American Physiological Society’s Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolic Diseases: Physiology and Gender conference, in Annapolis, MD.

Diagnosing preeclampsia may one day be as simple and as prognostic as taking a home pregnancy test, the researchers predicted.

Preeclampsia is not usually diagnosed until after the 20th week of pregnancy, when it’s identified by hypertension and proteinuria. Preterm delivery is often the only solution. It affects 5% to 8% of pregnancies worldwide—about 500,000 in the United States each year—and is a major cause of maternal, fetal, and neonatal morbidity and mortality.

Despite the prevalence and magnitude of preeclampsia, researchers still don’t understand the underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms that lead to its development.

In this presentation, the researchers reported that the protein copeptin can predict the development of preeclampsia as early as six weeks of gestation.

“Clinically, this timeframe is the earliest a woman can find out if she is pregnant by an over-the-counter pregnancy test. A similar simple test could be developed to predict preeclampsia via copeptin,” said lead investigator Mark Santillan, MD, Assistant Professor of Maternal Fetal Medicine at University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, IA.

Copeptin is a byproduct of the protein arginine vasopressin (AVP). Researchers had found that AVP plays an early role in the pathogenesis of preeclampsia. To better understand this role, Dr. Santillan and colleagues conducted tests in pregnant mice in which they administered AVP throughout pregnancy. These mice showed all the cardiovascular, kidney, obstetrics, and immune components of human preeclampsia.

Taken together, the mouse and human data suggest that AVP is involved in initiating preeclampsia. Targeting its pathway could potentially treat, prevent, and even cure preeclampsia, Dr. Santillan said.

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