Systemic Maternal Human sFLT1 Overexpression Leads to an Impaired Foetal Brain Development of Growth-Restricted Foetuses upon Experimental Preeclampsia

The pregnancy disorder preeclampsia (PE) is characterized by maternal hypertension, increased level of circulating antiangiogenic soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase-1 (sFLT1), and reduced placental perfusion, leading to foetal growth restriction (FGR) and preterm birth. All these adverse effects are associated with neurocognitive disorders in the offspring. However, the direct interplay between increased antiangiogenesis during PE and disturbed foetal brain development independent of prematurity has not been investigated yet. To examine foetal brain development in sFLT1-related PE, hsFLT1/rtTA-transgenic mice with systemic (maternal or maternal/fetoplacental) human sFLT1 (hsFLT1) overexpression since 10.5 days postconception (dpc) were used, and histological and molecular analyses of foetal brains were performed at 18.5 dpc. Consequences of elevated hsFLT1 on placental/foetal vascularization and hypoxia of placentas and foetal brains were analysed using the hypoxia markers pimonidazole and hemeoxygenase-1 (HO-1). Immunohistochemical analysis revealed increased hypoxia in placentas of PE-affected pregnancies. Moreover, an increase in HO-1 expression was observed upon elevated hsFLT1 in placentas and foetal brains. PE foetuses revealed asymmetrical FGR by increased brain/liver weight ratio. The brain volume was reduced combined with a reduction in the cortical/hippocampal area and an increase of the caudate putamen and its neuroepithelium, which was associated with a reduced cell density in the cortex and increased cell density in the caudate putamen upon hsFLT1 overexpression. Mild influences were observed on brain vasculature shown by free iron deposits and mRNA changes in Vegf signalling. Of note, both types of systemic hsFLT1 overexpression (indirect: maternal or direct: maternal/fetoplacental) revealed similar changes with increasing severity of impaired foetal brain development. Overall, circulating hsFLT1 in PE pregnancies impaired uteroplacental perfusion leading to disturbed foetal oxygenation and brain injury. This might be associated with a disturbed cell migration from the caudate putamen neuroepithelium to the cortex which could be due to disturbed cerebrovascular adaption.


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