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. 2007;68(5):1019-25.
doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2006.09.052. Epub 2006 Nov 16.

A Hypothesis Regarding Complement Activation and Amniotic Fluid Embolism

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A Hypothesis Regarding Complement Activation and Amniotic Fluid Embolism

Michael D Benson. Med Hypotheses. .

Abstract

Amniotic fluid embolism, a rare, sudden and often fatal illness of pregnancy may not be a true embolic event resulting from the physical obstruction of the pulmonary vasculature. The high degree of variability in symptoms, the lack of characteristic findings on radiological exam, the absence of a dose-response effect on symptoms, and the occasional occurrence of coagulopathies are not entirely consistent with a physical block to the circulation as the main mechanism of disease. Alternatively, it might be the result of complement activation initiated by fetal antigen leaking into the maternal circulation. This rare immune response may be initiated by a rare pathological antigen, or by common antigens presented uncommonly--in amount, timing, or frequency of entry into the maternal circulation. Some very early evidence in AFE patients supports this hypothesis but is not conclusive. Complement levels remain well within the normal range during uncomplicated parturition. A prior theory that AFE might be a result of maternal anaphylaxis to fetal antigen has much less evidence to support it. The disseminated intravascular coagulation often seen in this and other serious obstetrical illnesses may be a secondary result of complement activation rather than the direct introduction of pro-coagulants into the maternal circulation although the link between the complement and coagulation pathways, if any, remains poorly defined. Through currently available laboratory testing, both the complement hypothesis and the anaphylaxis mechanism are able to be assessed. Direct measurement of serum complement as well as serum tryptase and urinary histamine are readily obtained tests in community hospitals as well as tertiary care hospitals. If the hypothesis proves true, this investigation may be of profound importance to understanding immune tolerance. Rather, than asking why one pregnant woman in 20,000 develops a violent immune reaction to the fetus, a better question is why do not all pregnant women reject the fetus which is a large collection of foreign antigens?

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