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Oxygen damage: role in preeclampsia?

Roughly 7 percent of pregnant women develop preeclampsia, a potentially fatal disorder of unknown origin that appears during the last trimester. It can involve a number of symptoms, including sudden weight gain, swelling of the face and fingers, headaches, abdominal pain and high blood pressure. Delivery of the baby remains the only cure. But one small study offers new insights into this mysterious ailment -- and hints at a possible vitamin treatment.

Margaret K. McLaughlin and her colleagues at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine noted two provocative preeclampsia findings emerging from a growing but diffuse body of research. First, blood from affected women possesses evidence of greater lipid damage than the blood of healthy women, including pregnant women. Second, some unidentified factor in the blood of preeclamptic women--perhaps a product of that lipid oxidation -- makes their blood serum more toxic to endothelial cells, such as those lining blood vessels.

In a new study reported in the June OBSTETRICS AND GYNECOLOGY, McLaughlin, Sandra T. Davidge and their team found that blood from preeclamptic women possesses a strikingly lower ability to inhibit biologically damaging oxidation than does blood from other pregnant women. The researchers assayed spontaneous oxidation of tissue from sheep brains, alone or in the presence of human blood serum. Serum from nonpregnant individuals inhibits oxidation by about 45 percent. But as pregnancy progresses, McLaughlin and her co-workers found, the blood's capacity to inhibit oxidation typically doubles, reaching 90 percent.

The big surprise, McLaughlin says, is that in terms of inhibiting oxidation, serum from preeclamptic women "looks nonpregnant" -- that is, it appears not to inhibit oxidation by more than about 45 percent.

This striking difference in oxidation inhibition between women with normal and preeclamptic pregnancies suggests either that the disease occurs when women have insufficient antioxidants "or, more likely, that they used them up because there's a lot of [oxidative] injury going on," says James M. Roberts, an obstetrics researcher at the University of Pittsburgh's medical school. If it turns out that excess oxidation products cause the vascular effects of preeclampsia, treatment might be as simple as administration of antioxidant vitamins, Roberts suggests.

And that's exciting, he says, because while some preventive therapies can reduce a woman's risk of preeclampsia, "nobody's ever shown any treatment that works once a woman is sick."
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 13, 1992
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