Skip to main content

27 November 2020

Risk of pre-eclampsia related to blood pressure and BMI, study shows

The genetic risk of pre-eclampsia – a potentially dangerous condition in pregnancy – is related to blood pressure and body mass index, an international study has shown.

Woman in white top with hand on her belly looks out of the window

The InterPregGen study, published recently in Nature Communications by researchers from King’s and from across the UK, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, studied how maternal genetic variation influences the risk of pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia, usually diagnosed by increased blood pressure and protein in urine, affects up to 5% of pregnant women. It contributes worldwide to the death of estimated 50 000 women and up to 1 million babies annually. The condition is also known to increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases among mothers and their children later in life. There is an inherited risk, with women with a family history of pre-eclampsia at greater risk of developing the condition themselves.

The results pinpointed DNA variants in the ZNF831 and FTO genes as risk factors for pre-eclampsia. These genes have previously been associated with blood pressure, and the FTO variant also with body mass index. Further analysis revealed other blood pressure related variants in the MECOM, FGF5 and SH2B3 genes also associating with pre-eclampsia. These variants increase the risk of pre-eclampsia by 10-15%.

The study also shows that overall genetic predisposition to hypertension is a major risk factor for preeclampsia and thus a large number of variants each with a small effect may also contribute to the risk.

These current results complement the earlier findings of the same researchers, who showed that a variant near FLT1 gene in the fetal genome affects mothers’ risk of developing pre-eclampsia.


We have always known that pre-existing hypertension and obesity pre-dispose to pre-eclampsia, and this study adds a new dimension to these associations by description of relationships between pre-eclampsia and several fenetic variants which influence blood pressure and obesity. However, they only explain a part of pre-eclampsia risk. Whether the remaining unidentified factors act through the maternal or fetal genome, or both, remains to be seen.

Professor Lucilla Poston, partner in the consortium performing the study; from the School of Life Course Sciences,

She added: "The new insights from this study could form the basis for more effective prevention and treatment of pre-eclampsia in the future, and improve the outcome of pregnancy for mother and child.”

The 5-year study was coordinated by University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences and funded by a 6 million Euro grant from the European Commission.

In this story

Professor Lucilla Poston CBE

Professor of Maternal & Fetal Health