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Rockville, Md. (July 28, 2023)—High blood pressure (hypertension) that occurs during pregnancy is associated with dangerous health outcomes for both the pregnant person and fetus. New research on changes in mitochondrial gene expression sheds light on possible contributing factors to these disorders. The study is published ahead of print in Physiological Genomics. It was chosen as an APSselect article for July.

“Our data connect pregnancy-specific mitochondrial dysregulation with established preeclampsia-associated processes and inflammation.”

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, which include preeclampsia and gestational hypertension, are among the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths. Researchers from Loma Linda University in California and the University of North Texas Health Science Center examined two gene expression data sets from the National Center for Biotechnology Information Gene Expression Omnibus. They selected sets that included data from samples at different stages of gestation from pregnant people with and without pregnancy-induced hypertension. From these, the researchers calculated changes in mitochondrial gene expression over time in parent and placenta by analyzing their transcriptomes—the complete set of all RNA in a cell or tissue.

Transcriptomes change under different circumstances. Studying those changes can give insight into what genes are active under different conditions. The research team found 30 parental and nine placental mitochondrial genes that were expressed differently in the hypertensive groups. These genes differed between parent and placental tissue. In the parental set, the differentially expressed genes were associated with inflammation, cell death and placental development. In the placenta, they were genes associated with an increased number of extracellular vesicles or membrane-bound particles released from cells. Increased placental extracellular vesicles and inflammation have both been documented in preeclampsia.

This study provides evidence for the possibility that mitochondrial dysregulation could be a contributing factor in the development of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. More research is needed, but it may also “suggest that mitochondria may mediate maternal-fetal interactions during healthy pregnancy,” the study states.

“Converging or common mitochondria-mediated pathways underlying development of gestational hypertension and preeclampsia warrant further investigation,” the researchers conclude.

Read the full article, “Maternal and fetal mitochondrial gene dysregulation in hypertensive disorders of pregnancy,” published ahead of print in Physiological Genomics. It is highlighted as one of this month’s “best of the best” as part of the American Physiological Society’s APSselect program. Read all of this month’s selected research articles.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: To schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact APS Media Relations or call 301.634.7314. Find more research highlights in our Newsroom.

Physiology is a broad area of scientific inquiry that focuses on how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. The American Physiological Society connects a global, multidisciplinary community of more than 10,000 biomedical scientists and educators as part of its mission to advance scientific discovery, understand life and improve health. The Society drives collaboration and spotlights scientific discoveries through its 16 scholarly journals and programming that support researchers and educators in their work.

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