Increase in leptin levels in preeclampsia prompts cardiovascular cascade that puts mother and baby at risk

Before a baby is ever born, critical supply chain problems with nutrition and oxygen can result in premature birth or even death and increase the child and mother’s lifelong risk of cardiovascular disease.

Scientists have found that a midgestation increase in the hormone leptin, which most of us associate with appetite suppression, produces problematic blood vessel dysfunction and restriction of the baby’s growth in preeclampsia that put mother and baby at risk.

It’s known that about 20 weeks into a pregnancy, women with preeclampsia experience an increase in the production of leptin by the placenta but the consequences have been unknown.

“It’s kind of emerging as a marker of preeclampsia,” says Dr. Jessica Faulkner, vascular physiologist in the Department of Physiology at the Medical College of Georgia and corresponding author of the study in the journal Hypertension.

Leptin, mostly produced by fat cells, is also produced by the temporary organ, the placenta, which enables the mom to supply her developing baby with nutrients and oxygen, Faulkner says. Leptin levels steadily increase in a healthy pregnancy, but specifically what leptin is doing even normally in this scenario is unclear. There is some evidence it’s a natural nutrient sensor in reproduction or maybe a way to enable new blood vessel growth and/or to stimulate growth hormone for usual development.

“But in preeclamptic patients leptin levels go up more than they should,” Faulkner says.

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