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New Preeclampsia Protein Biomarker Could Improve Treatment

Close up of a woman's pregnant belly.
Credit: Anastasiia Chepinska / Unsplash.
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A breakthrough has occurred in pinpointing the underlying cause of preeclampsia (PE) by researchers from Western and Brown University. The study published in Nature Communications may create new avenues of research for developing treatments for this pregnancy complication.

Identifying the driver of preeclampsia

PE is the leading cause of maternal and perinatal morbidities and mortality, affecting up to eight percent of pregnancies globally. The life-threatening complication can lead to a lack of oxygen that adversely affects the placenta, and some research suggests it may also contribute to the development of dementia in later life.


The molecular drivers behind PE had been previously unknown, preventing the discovery of a cure. Identifying a biomarker for PE could offer a deeper understanding of its etiological drivers and supports further research into finding novel targets for future treatments.

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Preeclampsia and cis P-tau

Drs. Kun Ping Lu and Xiao Zhen Zhou at Western, and Drs. Surendra Sharma and Sukanta Jash at Brown analyzed protein content in the placenta and serum of PE patients, discovering increased levels of the protein cis P-tau. They found the toxic protein plays an important role in driving PE and could be used as an early biomarker for the condition.


cis P-tau is also associated with many neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and strokes. In 2012, Zhou developed an antibody that targets the toxic protein in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injuries, which is currently undergoing clinical trials in humans. The researchers tested this antibody in mouse models where “the cis P-tau antibody efficiently depleted the toxic protein in the blood and placenta,” Sharma says. “It corrected all features associated with preeclampsia in mice. Clinical features of PE, like elevated blood pressure, excessive protein in urine and fetal growth restriction, among others, were eliminated and pregnancy was normal,”

The study has also started to uncover the link between PE and the long-term impacts on brain health. “We’ve identified significant levels of cis P-tau outside the brain in the placenta and blood of PE patients,” said Jash, the lead author of the study.

cis P-tau as a potential target for pregnancy-related issues and brain disorders

Although further human clinical trials are needed to confirm the potential for antibody therapy as a cure for PE, the results seen in the preliminary mouse studies show huge promise. “The results have far-reaching implications. This could revolutionize how we understand and treat a range of conditions, from pregnancy-related issues to brain disorders,” said Lu.


Reference: Jash S, Banerjee S, Cheng S, et al. Cis P-tau is a central circulating and placental etiologic driver and therapeutic target of preeclampsia. Nat Commun. 2023;14(1):5414. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-41144-6

This article is a rework of a press release issued by Western University. Material has been edited for length and content.