Background: Preeclampsia (PE) is a frequently occurring multisystemic disease affecting ~5% of pregnancies. PE patients may develop HELLP syndrome (haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet), a mother and foetus life-threatening condition. Research into HELLP’s genetic origin has been relatively unsuccessful, mainly because normal placental function and blood pressure regulation involve the fine-regulation of hundreds of genes.
Objective: To identify new genes and mutations constituting potential biomarkers for HELLP syndrome.
Study design: The present case-control study involved whole-exome sequencing of 79 unrelated HELLP women. Candidate variants were screened in a control population constituted by 176 individuals. Stringent bioinformatics filters were used for selecting potentially etiological sequence variants in a subset of 487 genes. We used robust in silico mutation modelling for predicting the potential effect on protein structure.
Results: We identified numerous sequence variants in genes related to angiogenesis/coagulation/blood pressure regulation, cell differentiation/communication/adhesion, cell cycle and transcriptional gene regulation, extracellular matrix biology, lipid metabolism and immunological response. Five sequence variants generated premature stop codons in genes playing an essential role in placental physiology (STOX1, PDGFD, IGF2, MMP1 and DNAH11). Six variants (ERAP1- p.Ile915Thr, ERAP2- p.Leu837Ser, COMT-p.His192Gln, CSAD-p.Pro418Ser, CDH1- p.Ala298Thr and CCR2-p.Met249Lys) led to destabilisation of protein structure as they had significant energy and residue interaction-related changes. We identified at least two mutations in 57% of patients, arguing in favour of a polygenic origin for the HELLP syndrome.
Conclusion: Our results provide novel evidence regarding PE/HELLP’s genetic origin, leading to new biomarkers, having potential clinical usefulness, being proposed.