JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Risk factors and mediators of the vascular dysfunction associated with hypertension in pregnancy

Stephanie J Sheppard, Raouf A Khalil
Cardiovascular & Hematological Disorders Drug Targets 2010, 10 (1): 33-52
20041838
Normal pregnancy is associated with significant hemodynamic changes and vasodilation in the uterine and systemic circulation in order to meet the metabolic demands of the mother and developing fetus. Hypertension in pregnancy (HTN-Preg) and preeclampsia (PE) are major complications and life-threatening conditions to both the mother and fetus. PE is precipitated by various genetic, dietary and environmental factors. Although the initiating events of PE are unclear, inadequate invasion of cytotrophoblasts into the uterine artery is thought to reduce uteroplacental perfusion pressure and lead to placental ischemia/hypoxia. Placental hypoxia induces the release of biologically active factors such as growth factor inhibitors, anti-angiogenic proteins, inflammatory cytokines, reactive oxygen species, hypoxia-inducible factors, and antibodies to vascular angiotensin II receptor. These bioactive factors affect the production/activity of various vascular mediators in the endothelium, smooth muscle and extracellular matrix, leading to severe vasoconstriction and HTN. As an endothelial cell disorder, PE is associated with decreased vasodilator mediators such as nitric oxide, prostacyclin and hyperpolarizing factor and increased vasoconstrictor mediators such as endothelin, angiotensin II and thromboxane A(2). PE also involves enhanced mechanisms of vascular smooth muscle contraction including intracellular free Ca(2+) concentration ([Ca(2+)](i)), and [Ca(2+)](i) sensitization pathways such as protein kinase C, Rho-kinase and mitogen-activated protein kinase. Changes in extracellular matrix composition and matrix metalloproteases activity also promote vascular remodeling and further vasoconstriction in the uterine and systemic circulation. Characterization of the predisposing risk factors, the biologically active factors, and the vascular mediators associated with PE holds the promise for early detection, and should help design specific genetic and pharmacological tools for the management of the vascular dysfunction associated with HTN-Preg.

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