Pre-eclampsia is a vascular disorder of pregnancy where anti-angiogenic factors, systemic inflammation and oxidative stress predominate, but none can claim to cause pre-eclampsia. This review provides an alternative to the 'two-stage model' of pre-eclampsia in which abnormal spiral arteries modification leads to placental hypoxia, oxidative stress and aberrant maternal systemic inflammation. Very high maternal soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase-1 (sFlt-1 also known as sVEGFR) and very low placenta growth factor (PlGF) are unique to pre-eclampsia; however, abnormal spiral arteries and excessive inflammation are also prevalent in other placental disorders. Metaphorically speaking, pregnancy can be viewed as a car with an accelerator and brakes, where inflammation, oxidative stress and an imbalance in the angiogenic milieu act as the 'accelerator'. The 'braking system' includes the protective pathways of haem oxygenase 1 (also referred as Hmox1 or HO-1) and cystathionine-γ-lyase (also known as CSE or Cth), which generate carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen sulphide (H2S) respectively. The failure in these pathways (brakes) results in the pregnancy going out of control and the system crashing. Put simply, pre-eclampsia is an accelerator-brake defect disorder. CO and H2S hold great promise because of their unique ability to suppress the anti-angiogenic factors sFlt-1 and soluble endoglin as well as to promote PlGF and endothelial NOS activity. The key to finding a cure lies in the identification of cheap, safe and effective drugs that induce the braking system to keep the pregnancy vehicle on track past the finishing line.
Bibliographical note© 2014 The Authors. British Journal of Pharmacology published by John Wiley &. Sons Ltd on behalf of The British Pharmacological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Funding: British Heart Foundation; MRC