Extra-placental expression of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-1, (Flt-1) and soluble Flt-1 (sFlt-1), by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in normotensive and preeclamptic pregnant women

Placenta. 2005 Aug;26(7):563-73. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2004.09.001.


The soluble VEGF receptor, sFlt-1 (otherwise referred to as sVEGFR-1), has been implicated in the pathogenesis of preeclampsia. The preeclamptic placenta has been previously demonstrated to produce high levels of the soluble VEGF receptor. Here we tested the hypothesis that peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) may also represent an additional source for circulating sFlt-1 during normal and preeclamptic pregnancies. We first demonstrate that preeclamptic placentae show five-fold increased Flt-1 and sFlt-1 mRNA levels. We also show that the Flt-1 and sFlt-1 levels are eight-fold higher in preeclamptic placentae if we collect biopsies without rinsing them in saline to remove excess blood. Cultured villous explants from women with preeclampsia failed to show the increased amount of Flt-1 and sFlt-1 mRNA that was observed in the placental biopsies of normal pregnancy and preeclampsia. Under normoxic conditions the Flt-1 and sFlt-1 mRNA levels in the explants were 3.11+/-0.6 fold in normal pregnancy and 3.6+/-0.4 fold in women with preeclampsia (p = NS by ANOVA). However, the same villous explants showed hypoxic induction of Flt-1 mRNA (NP 3.96+/-0.4 fold, p = NS and PE 5.24+/-0.6 fold, p < 0.05 by ANOVA). We analyzed Flt-1 and sFlt-1 protein levels in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) to analyze the possibility of an extra-placental sFlt-1 source. Our results indicate that PBMCs of pregnant women are capable of expressing variable amounts of Flt-1 proteins. PBMCs from pregnant women exposed to hypoxia show up-regulation of HIF-1alpha and Flt-1 proteins. PBMCs obtained from women with preeclampsia (n = 9) produced significantly higher amounts of sFlt-1 under normal tissue culture conditions (104.6+/-14.3 pg/ml vs. 46.23+/-5.03 pg/ml, p < 0.05 by ANOVA) and much higher concentrations under hypoxia (196.74+/-26.3pg/ml vs. 83.3+/-13.6pg/ml, p < 0.05 by ANOVA) than PBMCs from normal pregnant women (n = 11). Moreover, analysis of PBMCs from a different group of women with a history of preeclampsia showed persistent abnormality of Flt-1 women one year post-partum. The present study indicates that Flt-1 dysregulation in PBMCs of pregnant women resulting in over-expression of sFlt-1 could be an additional (extra-placental) source of sFlt-1 that contributes to the pathogenesis of preeclampsia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cell Hypoxia / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chorionic Villi / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism*
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Placenta / pathology
  • Pre-Eclampsia / blood*
  • Pregnancy / blood*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor-1 / blood*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor-1 / genetics


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • HIF1A protein, human
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Transcription Factors
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor-1