Although epidemiological studies have shown that obesity is associated with increased incidence of hypertension during pregnancy, the mechanisms linking these two comorbidities are not as well studied. Previous investigations detected lower levels of the anti-hypertensive and pregnancy-related factor, placental growth factor (PlGF), in obese hypertensive pregnancies. Therefore, we examined whether obese hypertensive pregnant rats have reduced PlGF and whether increasing its levels by administering recombinant human (rh)PlGF reduces their blood pressure.
We utilized a genetic model of obesity characterized to be heavier, hypertensive and fertile, namely rats having heterozygous deficiency of the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R-def).
MC4R-def obese rats had lower circulating levels of PlGF than wild-type lean controls at gestational day 19. Also, assessment of the PlGF receptor, Flt-1, in the vasculature showed that its levels were reduced in aorta and kidney glomeruli but increased in small mesenteric arteries. Chronic intraperitoneal administration of rhPlGF from gestational day 13–19 significantly increased circulating PlGF levels in both obese and lean rats, but reduced blood pressure only in the obese pregnant group. The rhPlGF treatment did not alter maternal body and fat masses or circulating levels of the adipokines, leptin and adiponectin. In addition, this treatment did not impact average foetal weights but increased placental weights regardless of obese or lean pregnancy.
PlGF is reduced in MC4R-def obese hypertensive pregnant rats, which is similar to findings in obese hypertensive pregnant women, while increasing its levels with exogenous rhPlGF reduces their blood pressure.