Preeclampsia and health risks later in life: an immunological link

Shi Bin Cheng, Surendra Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Pregnancy represents a period of physiological stress, and although this stress is experienced for a very modest portion of life, it is now recognized as a window to women’s future health, often by unmasking predispositions to conditions that only become symptomatic later in life. In normal pregnancy, the mother experiences mild metabolic syndrome-like condition through week 20 of gestation. A pronounced phenotype of metabolic syndrome may program pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a serious complication with a myriad of manifestations for mother and offspring. This pregnancy syndrome is a polygenic disease and has been now linked to higher incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and several other disorders associated with vulnerable organs. Furthermore, the offspring born to preeclamptic mothers also exhibit an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and mental disorders during adulthood. This suggests that preeclampsia not only exposes the mother and the fetus to complications during pregnancy but also programs chronic diseases in later life. The etiology of preeclampsia is thought to be primarily associated with poor placentation and entails excessive maternal inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. It is well established now that the maternal immune system and the placenta are involved in a highly choreographed cross-talk that underlies adequate spiral artery remodeling required for uteroplacental perfusion and free flow of nutrients to the fetus. Since normal pregnancy is associated with a sequence of events represented by temporal events of inflammation (implantation), anti-inflammation (gestation), and inflammation (parturition), it is quite possible that unscheduled alterations in these regulatory responses may lead to pathologic consequences. Although it is not clear whether immunological alterations occur early in pregnancy, it is proposed that dysregulated systemic and placental immunity contribute to impaired angiogenesis and the onset of preeclampsia. This review will focus on important aspects of the immune system that coordinate with placental dysfunction to program preeclampsia and influence health in later life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)699-708
Number of pages10
JournalSeminars in Immunopathology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggregated proteins
  • Chronic diseases
  • Damage-associated molecular patterns
  • Immune tolerance
  • Inflammation
  • Microparticles
  • NK cells
  • Preeclampsia
  • Regulatory T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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