The role of Chlamydia pneumoniae and cytomegalovirus in preeclampsia: a link between preeclampsia and later atherosclerosis

Preeclampsia is the most common dangerous complication of pregnancy, affecting the health of both mother and fetus. While high blood pressure in the mother and the excretion of protein in her urine are the most visible symptoms of the disease, preeclampsia also causes systemic inflammation and organ damage. When this disorder occurs early in pregnancy, it is particularly dangerous and increases a woman’s later cardiovascular risk. Normally during pregnancy, the immune system changes and women become more susceptible to infectious agents. Two infectious agents in particular, Chlamydia pneumoniae (a bacteria) and cytomegalovirus (a virus), are thought to trigger early onset preeclampsia. These agents have already been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease later in life. However, it is still unclear what role they play in the onset and development of preeclampsia and its long term cardiovascular effects. Fang Xie is investigating the mechanisms between infection, innate immune response and the development of preeclampsia. Focusing on Chlamydia pneumoniae and cytomegalovirus, she will determine how pregnant women are affected by these two infectious agents and how immune system receptors respond to the infection, including possible gene mutations and inflammatory changes associated with these two types of agents. She will also determine whether infection results in changes to blood clotting mechanisms during pregnancy. A greater understanding of the role of infectious agents in preeclampsia will help in developing targeted treatments to prevent and cure this disease, leading to improved health care for both mother and fetus.