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Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2001 Mar;95(1):12-21.

Pathophysiology of preeclampsia and the role of serotonin.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Free University Hospital, De Boelelaan 1117, 1081HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands. ac.bolte@azvu.nl


Hypertensive disorders constitute the most common medical complications of pregnancy. In normal pregnancy, impressive physiological changes take place in the maternal cardiovascular system. Morphological changes are the result of invasion of migratory trophoblast cells into the walls of the spiral arteries. After destruction of elastic, muscular and neural tissue in the media, the trophoblast cells get incorporated into the vessel wall and the endothelial lining of the spiral arteries is restored. The physiological changes create a low-resistance, low-pressure, high-flow system with the absence of maternal vasomotor control. Biochemical adaptations in maternal vasculature include changes in the prostaglandin system, the renin-angiotensin-aldosteron system and the kallikrein-kinin system. In preeclampsia, physiological changes in the spiral arteries are confined to the decidual portion of the arteries. Myometrial segments remain anatomically intact and fail to dilate. In addition, the adrenergic nerve supply is left intact. The cause of this impaired endovascular trophoblast invasion is not yet elucidated. But in combination with the imbalance between vasodilator and vasoconstrictor eicosanoids, it gives rise to reduced perfusion of the intervillous space. In the absence of an adequate production of antiaggregatory prostacyclin (PGI(2)), nitric oxide, or both, surface-mediated platelet activation is supposed to occur on the surface of the spiral arteries. Because platelets are the principal source of circulating serotonin, the increased platelet aggregation in preeclampsia causes an increase in serotonin levels. Interaction of serotonin with serotonin(1)- or serotonin(2)-receptors depends on the state of the endovascular trophoblast or endothelium in the spiral arteries and has opposite effects with regard to vasodilating and vasoconstrictive influences.

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