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Placenta. 2016 Dec;48 Suppl 1:S40-S46. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2016.02.001. Epub 2016 Feb 6.

The Elsevier trophoblast research award lecture: Impacts of placental growth factor and preeclampsia on brain development, behaviour, and cognition.

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Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Electronic address:
Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


Preeclampsia (PE) is a significant gestational disorder affecting 3-5% of all human pregnancies. In many PE pregnancies, maternal plasma is deficient in placental growth factor (PGF), a placentally-produced angiokine. Beyond immediate fetal risks associated with acute termination of the pregnancy, offspring of PE pregnancies (PE-F1) have higher long-term risks for hypertension, stroke, and cognitive impairment compared to F1s from uncomplicated pregnancies. At present, mechanisms that explain PE-F1 gains in postpartum risks are poorly understood. Our laboratory found that mice genetically-deleted for Pgf have altered fetal and adult brain vascular development. This is accompanied by sexually dimorphic alterations in anatomic structure in the adult Pgf-/- brain and impaired cognitive functions. We hypothesize that cerebrovascular and neurological aberrations occur in fetuses exposed to the progressive development of PE and that these brain changes impair cognitive functioning, enhance risk for stroke, elevate severity of stroke, and lead to worse stroke outcomes. These brain and placental outcomes may be linked to down-regulated PGF gene expression in early pre-implantation embryos, prior to gastrulation. This review explores our hypothesis that there are mechanistic links between low PGF detection in maternal plasma prodromal to PE, PE, and altered brain vascular, structural, and functional development amongst PE-F1s. We also include a summary of preliminary outcomes from a pilot study of 7-10 year old children that is the first to report magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic resonance angiography, and functional brain region assessment by eye movement control studies in PE-F1s.


Angiogenesis; Behaviour; Brain development; Cognition; Placental growth factor; Preeclampsia; Stroke

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