Preeclampsia, fetal development problems may be linked to low levels of hormone

ore than a dozen physiological functions such as metabolism, heart rate control, gastric control, thirst and appetite control, stress response, blood vessel growth, antibacterial activity and nerve transmission.

The hormone also plays a role in a number of diseases and cardiovascular conditions. For example, blood levels of adrenomedullin double in cancer, kidney failure, congestive heart failure, hypertension and diabetes. According to Caron, one of the greatest increases occurs during the course of a normal pregnancy, when the placenta secretes adrenomedullin levels reach four to five times higher than normal by the third trimester before rapidly returning to pre-pregnancy values after delivery.

But in women who experience complications such as preeclampsia, spontaneous abortion, and gestational diabetes, hormone levels do not increase as they normally would in pregnancy. "It's possible that the inability to increase adrenomedullin during pregnancy might be a cause of preeclampsia and other problems," Caron said.

Caron, who has studied adrenomedullin's role in the body for several years, first noticed the link between the hormone and fertility while working as a postdoctoral researcher with UNC professor Dr. Oliver Smithies. Caron discovered that mice with a genetic mutation causing a 50 percent reduction in adrenomedullin levels had poor fertility and small litter sizes.

Caron's latest research establishes that reduced litter sizes are due to low adrenomedullin levels in the mother and not the father. The study also found that although embryos implanted normally, their spacing in the wall of the mouse uterus was "overcrowded," which was associated with poorer subsequent growth. This overcrowding also was linked to abnormal placentas and a high rate of twinning.

The UNC researchers showed that both mother and embryo make an effort to increase the level of adrenomedullin at the embryo's implantation site in the u

Contact: L. H. Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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