Placental ischaemia is a consequence rather than a cause of pre-eclampsia

Paul T-Y Ayuk, Ratko Matijevic
Medical Hypotheses 2006, 67 (4): 792-5
The aetiology or pre-eclampsia remains unknown, but it is widely accepted that the disorder is placental in origin. Failed trophoblast invasion of the maternal spiral arteries is accepted to be a central pathogenetic mechanism. However, the concept of failed trophoblast invasion is based on an assumption rather than direct scientific observation and there are other likely explanations for this phenomenon. The criteria for disease causation, such as the Bradford-Hill criteria are central to the ascertainment of causal relationships in modern medicine and these criteria are used here to assess the relationship between the placenta and pre-eclampsia. There is a strong association between pre-eclampsia and small (rather than large) placentas and an appropriate dose-response relationship does not exist. Failed trophoblast invasion of the spiral arteries is not specific to pre-eclampsia and occurs in other pregnancy complications and in up to 40% of biopsies from normal pregnancies and the relationship between placental ischaemia and pre-eclampsia is very inconsistent. A placental cause for pre-eclampsia is not consistent with the pathogenesis of other pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes mellitus. If pre-eclampsia was a disease of trophoblast origin, the risk of the disease should be determined by trophoblast rather than maternal factors. However, evidence from assisted reproduction shows that the risk of a woman developing pre-eclampsia is almost entirely dependent on maternal factors and independent of the embryo from which the placenta develops. There is currently no plausible proven mechanism by which the placenta causes pre-eclampsia. The syndrome typically gets worse, and can arise de-novo after the placenta has been removed, calling into question the role of the placenta in its causation. Uterine artery ligation in humans, unlike in animal experiments, is not associated with an increased incidence of pre-eclampsia, calling into question the role of poor utero-placental perfusion in the cause of the disease in humans. The signals that initiate maternal adaptive responses during pregnancy come from or through the placenta into the maternal milieu but as is the case with gestational diabetes mellitus, are not necessarily the cause of maternal disease. Pre-eclampsia causes renal, hepatic, myocardial, cerebral and adrenal ischaemia--that is ischaemia in all highly vascular organs. Placental ischaemia, like ischaemia in all other organs, is a consequence rather than a causal factor in the development of the syndrome and this has profound consequences for research strategies.

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