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Protein DLKI in blood of pregnant women may predict possible pregnancy complications and poor fetal growth

last modified Oct 27, 2016 11:26 AM
Mary Cleaton from CRT was featured in a paper published in Nature Genetics.

 This research showed that a protein (known as DLK1) circulating in the mother’s blood during pregnancy is produced by the foetus and its levels may provide a readout of foetal wellbeing.

The team first used a mouse model with a genetic deletion in the Dlk1 gene to show that the circulating protein in maternal blood comes from the foetus. In normal pregnancy the metabolism of the mother is exquisitely sensitive to starvation, even a short fast can liberate maternal fat reserves to supplement the energy required for the growth of the foetus. In pregnant mice without circulating DLK1, this fasting response did not occur in the mother. As mouse embryos without Dlk1 were smaller than controls, the team hypothesised that maternal circulating DLK1 levels in pregnancy might predict pregnancy outcome in humans.

DLK1 levels were measured in the blood of women who were enrolled in the Pregnancy Outcome Prediction study carried out by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Cambridge. Women with infants who were small-for-gestational age (SGA) had lower levels of DLK1 than matched controls. Importantly, DLK1 levels were not reduced in pregnancies where the infant was born small but healthy, but rather that low DLK1 levels were associated with reduced growth of the foetus resulting from pregnancy complications. This means that DLK1 might in future be used in the clinic to differentiate pregnancies that might need intervention from those that are healthy but small.

This work was funded by a CTR studentship to Mary Cleaton, and the MRC.

The paper can be found here:


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