• Early growth response factor-1;
  • endothelial cells;
  • fibroblast growth factor receptor-1;
  • fibroblast growth factor-2;
  • placental vascular disease

Objective  To seek evidence of early vascular injury in the placental villous microcirculation in placental insufficiency identified by a high-resistance umbilical Doppler study by examining for expression of fibroblast growth factor receptor-1 (FGFR-1), its transcription factor, early growth response factor-1 (Egr-1) and plasma fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2).

Design  Case–control study.

Setting  University teaching hospital.

Sample  Placentas and umbilical vein blood were collected at delivery from 12 women with normal pregnancy delivered at term and 14 with placental vascular disease defined by an abnormal umbilical artery Doppler study.

Methods  Microvascular endothelial cells were isolated from fresh human placentas using collagenase digestion and Dynabeads coated with monoclonal antibody against CD31. RNA was extracted from the isolated endothelial cells. The messenger RNA (mRNA) expression of FGFR-1 and Egr-1 production were assessed by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction and factored relative to 18S ribosomal RNA. To confirm that FGF-2 was playing a significant role in this microvascular endothelial cell injury in the placenta, we also measured the soluble fraction of FGF-2 in fetal plasma from same groups of pregnancies using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

Main outcome measures  Microvascular endothelial cells expression of Egr-1mRNA, FGFR-1 mRNA and presence of soluble FGF-2 in fetal plasma.

Results  The soluble level of FGF-2 in the fetal placental circulation from pregnancy with placental vascular disease was increased when compared with normal pregnancy (median 10.15 pg/ml and interquartile range 5.34–21.83 pg/ml versus 4.46 pg/ml and 3.69–5.66 pg/ml; P < 0.05). Microvascular endothelial cells from the placental villi with placental vascular disease showed upregulation of both FGFR-1 mRNA expression (median 0.72 and interquartile range 0.40–1.64 versus 0.34 and 0.19–0.71; P < 0.05) and Egr-1 expression (median 0.79 and interquartile range 0.27–1.86 versus 0.23 and 0.17–0.67; P < 0.05) in comparison with normal pregnancy.

Conclusions  Endothelial cells from the placental villi are upregulated for expression of Egr-1 transcription factor gene in placental vascular disease. The FGFR-1 activation and increase in FGF-2 in the fetal circulation are known to be very early features of the response of endothelium to injury. Egr-1 is a promoter of many key pathophysiologically relevant target genes, which influence the development of subsequent vascular lesions. This change may occur before the pathological features recognised on microscopy.