Preeclampsia: an excessive maternal inflammatory response to pregnancy

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1999 Feb;180(2 Pt 1):499-506. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9378(99)70239-5.


The maternal syndrome of preeclampsia has previously been ascribed to generalized maternal endothelial cell dysfunction. In this review we suggest that the endothelial dysfunction is a part of a more generalized intravascular inflammatory reaction involving intravascular leukocytes as well as the clotting and complement systems. We provide evidence from our recent work and that of others that not only supports this proposal but indicates that such an inflammatory response is already well developed in normal pregnancy and that the differences between normal pregnancy and preeclampsia are less striking than those between the normal pregnant and nonpregnant states. From this we argue that preeclampsia arises when a universal maternal intravascular inflammatory response to pregnancy decompensates in particular cases, which may occur because either the stimulus or the maternal response is too strong. We conclude that there is no specific cause for the disorder, which can be better considered as the extreme end of the range of maternal adaptation to pregnancy. We propose that poor placentation is not the cause of preeclampsia but is a powerful predisposing factor. We predict that a single preeclampsia gene will not be found, nor will either a single specific predictive test or single preventive effective measure be devised. Aspects of the hypothesis are testable, and future work should allow its confirmation or refutation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation*
  • Leukocytes / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Pre-Eclampsia / blood
  • Pre-Eclampsia / etiology*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy