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

Emobileclinic Researchers Corner 




Abnormal fetal growth and other complications associated with pregnancy are serious concerns to health practitioners and pregnant mothers. Going by the findings of a recent study, respite might soon be on the way to preventing this problems as a blood test for showing possibility of pregnancy complications and poor fetal growth may have been found.


The Journal of Nature Genetics has recently published the work of researchers who discovered a blood protein found in pregnant woman known as DLKI useful in predicting possible pregnancy complications and poor fetal growth.

According to the researchers, measuring DLK1 levels in the blood of pregnant woman may be a viable strategy to predict pregnancy complications. DLK1 is responsible for supplying energy for the developing fetus and a reduced level of the protein in a pregnant woman’s blood may lead to decreasing fetal growth arising from pregnancy complications.
Dr. Marika Charalambous remarks that there are high levels of DLK1 in the blood of rodents and humans during pregnancy, but little is known about what the protein does in them.
It is against this background that Dr. Charalambous and colleagues conducted several experiments in pregnant mice and humans. For pregnant mice, the team sealed off the DLK1 gene that encodes the DLK1 protein, allowing them to know the source of the protein and have a detailed knowledge of its function.

The team discovered that the DLK1 protein emanates from the embryo, proffering that blood levels of the protein may provide information about an embryo’s biological condition. Additional investigation showed that deactivation of the DLK1 protein in pregnant mice stopped a process known as ketosis in response to fasting.
The body highly needs glucose to serve as energy supply to the body. The unavailability of glucose as a result of a low-carbohydrate intake or fasting results in ketosis formation. Ketosis arises when the body burns off the fats stored in the body to meet the energy needs of the body.
Simply put, the team recommends that the DLK1 protein is crucial in energy provision to a developing fetus and ultimately for fetal growth. Furthermore, a low level of DLKI protein in the blood of pregnant mice is linked to low fetal mass. From the study conducted on pregnant women, Dr. Charalambous and colleagues in collaboration with researchers from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom to examine if DLK1 levels in the blood of pregnant women may be linked to fetal health.

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The team analyzed blood samples taken around 36 weeks of pregnancy and pregnancy results of 129 first-time mothers. The result showed that mothers who had low blood levels of the DLK1 protein were more likely to deliver babies that were small for gestational age (SGA) compared to those with higher DLK1 protein levels.
It was also showed that lower DLK1 levels in expectant mothers were linked to decreased fetal growth as a result of limited blood flow through the umbilical cord and other pregnancy complications.
In all, the researchers conclude that their findings offer that blood DLK1 protein levels may be a reliable strategy to predicting pregnancy complications among expectant mothers. They say: “it’s incredibly important to start developing tests that can give an obstetrician much more information on the pregnancy before delivery, so that they can intervene before complications come to crisis point and that “measuring DLK1 levels in the mother’s blood could be a reliable and noninvasive way of predicting whether there are likely to be complications, especially those that cause reduced nutrient supply to the baby. In those instances, you really need to get the baby out quickly, so women could opt to have an early elective delivery.”






Marika Charalambous, (2016) Fetus-derived DLK1 is required for maternal metabolic adaptations to pregnancy and is associated with fetal growth restriction, Nature Genetics, doi:10.1038/ng

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