Evidence-based revised view of the pathophysiology of preeclampsia

Asif Ahmed*, Homira Rezai, Sophie Broadway-Stringer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter


Preeclampsia is a life-threatening vascular disorder of pregnancy due to a failing stressed placenta. Millions of women risk death to give birth each year and globally each year, almost 300,000 lose their life in this process and over 500,000 babies die as a consequence of preeclampsia. Despite decades of research, we lack pharmacological agents to treat it. Maternal endothelial oxidative stress is a central phenomenon responsible for the preeclampsia phenotype of high maternal blood pressure and proteinuria. In 1997, it was proposed that preeclampsia arises due to the loss of VEGF activity, possibly due to elevation in anti-angiogenic factor, soluble Flt-1 (sFlt-1). Researchers showed that high sFlt-1 and soluble endoglin (sEng) elicit the severe preeclampsia phenotype in pregnant rodents. We demonstrated that heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1)/carbon monoxide (CO) pathway prevents placental stress and suppresses sFlt-1 and sEng release. Likewise, hydrogen sulphide (H2S)/cystathionine-γ-lyase (Cth) systems limit sFlt-1 and sEng and protect against the preeclampsia phenotype in mice. Importantly, H2S restores placental vasculature, and in doing so improves lagging fetal growth. These molecules act as the inhibitor systems in pregnancy and when they fail, preeclampsia is triggered. In this review, we discuss what are the hypotheses and models for the pathophysiology of preeclampsia on the basis of Bradford Hill causation criteria for disease causation and how further in vivo experimentation is needed to establish ‘proof of principle’. Hypotheses that fail to meet the Bradford Hill causation criteria include abnormal spiral artery remodelling and inflammation and should be considered associated or consequential to the disorder. In contrast, the protection against cellular stress hypothesis that states that the protective pathways mitigate cellular stress by limiting elevation of anti-angiogenic factors or oxidative stress and the subsequent clinical signs of preeclampsia appear to fulfil most of Bradford Hill causation criteria. Identifying the candidates on the roadmap to this pathway is essential in developing diagnostics and therapeutics to target the pathogenesis of preeclampsia.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHypertension: from basic research to clinical practice
EditorsMd. Shahidul Islam
Place of PublicationCham (CH)
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-44251-8
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-44250-1
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameAdvances in Experimental Medicine and Biology
ISSN (Print)0065-2598
ISSN (Electronic)2214-8019
NameAdvances in Internal Medicine
ISSN (Print)2367-0177
ISSN (Electronic)2367-0185


  • activin A
  • angiogenic factors
  • gasotransmitter
  • HO-1
  • hypoxia
  • inflammation
  • microRNA
  • oxidative stress
  • preeclampsia
  • SFlt-1


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