Send to

Choose Destination
Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Mar;186(3):557-63.

Endothelial cell apoptosis is induced by fetal plasma from pregnancy with umbilical placental vascular disease.

Author information

Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Sydney at Westmead Hospital, NSW, Australia.



Vascular disease in the umbilical placental circulation that is detected by umbilical artery Doppler study is associated with adverse fetal outcome. Endothelial cell activation and platelet consumption are features of this pathologic condition. We postulated that this was due to the local release of factors that cause endothelial cell injury and that these would spill into the fetal circulation. To test this hypothesis, we examined for the presence in fetal plasma of factors that induced endothelial cell apoptosis in pregnancies that were complicated by umbilical placental vascular disease.


Isolated and cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells were exposed to fetal plasma from the 3 fetal groups: normal pregnancy (n = 32 patients), pregnancy with umbilical placental vascular disease that was identified by an abnormal umbilical artery Doppler study (n = 38 patients), and pregnancy with maternal preeclampsia and normal umbilical artery Doppler study (n = 16 patients). Early apoptosis can be recognized by a loss of plasma membrane asymmetry with membrane uptake of annexin V. This was measured with annexin V and propidium iodide staining by fluorescent-activated cell scanning. Cells that underwent early apoptosis stained positive for annexin V and negative for propidium iodide (in contrast with cells that underwent necrosis). Cytosolic proteolytic activity was also measured. The lysates from endothelial cells that were stimulated by fetal plasma from umbilical placental vascular disease were tested for caspase-3 and caspase-8 activities by a fluorescent assay with spectrofluorophotometry.


The percentage of endothelial cells that underwent apoptosis was significantly higher (P <.05) when stimulated with fetal plasma from pregnancies with umbilical placental vascular disease (17.71% +/- 1.31%) than with fetal plasma from normal pregnancies (9.76% +/- 0.87%). In the presence of maternal preeclampsia with normal umbilical artery Doppler study, the percent of apoptotic cells (11.31% +/- 1.59%) was similar to that of the normal group. In the group with abnormal umbilical artery Doppler study, there was no difference between pregnancies with preeclampsia (n = 17 pregnancies) and without preeclampsia (n = 21 pregnancies). The protease activity of caspase-3 was significantly enhanced in the group with umbilical placental vascular disease compared with normal pregnancy (0.79 +/- 0.06 vs 0.45 +/- 0.08 microMol/L). However, no difference in caspase-8 activity was detected (0.66 +/- 0.05 vs 0.56 +/- 0.05 microMol/L).


Endothelial cell apoptosis is a feature of umbilical placental vascular disease. Our study demonstrates the presence of factors in the fetal plasma that caused endothelial cells to undergo early apoptosis. This increased apoptosis was only seen in the presence of placental vascular disease and was independent of the presence or absence of maternal preeclampsia. Our results indicate that programmed endothelial cell death occurs in the fetal circulation as a part of the injury that is associated with the development of umbilical placental vascular disease. The caspase-3, rather than caspase-8, signal transduction pathway appears to be involved in the mediation of endothelial cell apoptosis that was detected in our study.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center