Despite intense investigation, mechanisms that facilitate the emergence of the pre-eclampsia phenotype in women are still unknown. Placental hypoxia, hypertension, proteinuria and oedema are the principal clinical features of this disease. It is speculated that hypoxia-driven disruption of the angiogenic balance involving vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)/placenta-derived growth factor (PLGF) and soluble Fms-like tyrosine kinase-1 (sFLT-1, the soluble form of VEGF receptor 1) might contribute to some of the maternal symptoms of pre-eclampsia. However, pre-eclampsia does not develop in all women with high sFLT-1 or low PLGF levels, and it also occurs in some women with low sFLT-1 and high PLGF levels. Moreover, recent experiments strongly suggest that several soluble factors affecting the vasculature are probably elevated because of placental hypoxia in the pre-eclamptic women, indicating that upstream molecular defect(s) may contribute to pre-eclampsia. Here we show that pregnant mice deficient in catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) show a pre-eclampsia-like phenotype resulting from an absence of 2-methoxyoestradiol (2-ME), a natural metabolite of oestradiol that is elevated during the third trimester of normal human pregnancy. 2-ME ameliorates all pre-eclampsia-like features without toxicity in the Comt(-/-) pregnant mice and suppresses placental hypoxia, hypoxia-inducible factor-1alpha expression and sFLT-1 elevation. The levels of COMT and 2-ME are significantly lower in women with severe pre-eclampsia. Our studies identify a genetic mouse model for pre-eclampsia and suggest that 2-ME may have utility as a plasma and urine diagnostic marker for this disease, and may also serve as a therapeutic supplement to prevent or treat this disorder.
Kanasaki, K., Palmsten, K., Sugimoto, H., Ahmad, S., Hamano, Y., Xie, L., Parry, S., Augustin, H. G., Gattone, V. H., Folkman, J., Strauss, J. F., & Kalluri, R. (2008). Deficiency in catechol-O-methyltransferase and 2-methoxyoestradiol is associated with pre-eclampsia. Nature, 453(7198), 1117-1121. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06951