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Mol Immunol. 2010 Apr;47(7-8):1500-6. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2010.01.021. Epub 2010 Feb 23.

Activation of the complement system in normal pregnancy and preeclampsia.

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  • 1First Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary.


The purpose of this study was to explore the role of the complement system in normal human pregnancy and preeclampsia in a comprehensive manner, measuring circulating levels of complement proteins, their activation fragments and regulatory factors, as well as those of C-reactive protein (CRP). Sixty preeclamptic patients, 60 healthy pregnant women and 59 healthy non-pregnant women were involved in this case-control study. Circulating levels of complement components and CRP were determined with ELISA, radial immunodiffusion and particle enhanced immunoturbidimetric assay. Levels of CRP, C4d, C3a, SC5b9, C3, C9 and factor H antigen were significantly higher, while those of C1-inhibitor were significantly lower in healthy pregnant than non-pregnant women. In addition, preeclamptic patients had significantly higher CRP, C4d, C3a, SC5b9 levels and significantly lower C3 concentrations as compared to healthy pregnant women. Their CRP, C4d, C3a, SC5b9, C4, C3, C9 and factor H antigen levels were significantly higher, while C1-inhibitor concentrations were significantly lower compared with healthy non-pregnant women. However, no significant difference was found in Bb and C4b-binding protein levels among the three study groups. Preeclamptic patients with fetal growth restriction had significantly higher plasma SC5b9 levels than those without IUGR. There was a relative deficiency of C1-inhibitor and C4b-binding protein, and a relative abundance of factor H both in normal pregnancy and preeclampsia. Activation of the classical or lectin pathway (C4d) showed significant positive correlation to C3 activation (C3a) both in healthy pregnant women and preeclamptic patients. However, the correlation between C3 and terminal pathway activation was dominating only in patients with preeclampsia, but not in healthy pregnant women. In conclusion, the complement system is activated through the classical and/or lectin pathways with increased terminal complex formation in the third trimester of normal human pregnancy, and further in preeclampsia, as shown by the elevated amounts of activation markers in the systemic circulation. Excessive activation of the terminal pathway is associated with fetal growth restriction in preeclamptic women. However, additional studies are required to determine the cause and consequence of systemic complement activation in this pregnancy-specific disorder.

Copyright 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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