China’s Ningbo University scientists have identified biomarkers in blood samples that could provide an early warning system for three common and dangerous pregnancy complications. The study, published January 12 in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, may facilitate the early diagnosis and treatment needed to prevent poor perinatal outcomes and lifelong consequences resulting from these complications.
Short-chain fatty acids detected in the blood may provide biomarkers for dangerous pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and a liver condition called intrahepatic cholestasis. All three conditions can result in significant morbidity and mortality. However, their causes are not fully understood, and there are currently no effective treatments.
The team investigated whether specific changes in the microbiome could be used as biomarkers for these pregnancy complications. The changes were detected using levels of short-chain fatty acids produced from dietary fiber fermentation by intestinal microbiota in the intestine. During pregnancy, these fatty acids are closely related to pregnancy complications.
The team recruited 112 women and divided them into four groups: those experiencing healthy pregnancies, and those diagnosed with preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or intrahepatic cholestasis. They took medical histories and blood samples, and used targeted metabolomics to carry out an analysis of the levels of seven short-chain fatty acids: acetic, propionic, butyric, isobutyric, isovaleric, valeric, and hexanoic.
All three groups of women who experienced the specified complications showed elevated levels of isobutyric acid. Patients with gestational diabetes and preeclampsia also had elevated levels of isovaleric, acetic, and propionic acids -- the latter two potentially due to dyslipidemia, a lipid imbalance in the blood.
By contrast, women diagnosed with intrahepatic cholestasis had much lower levels of all short-chain fatty acids except isobutyric acid. The team hypothesized that lower levels of short-chain fatty acids might be due to lower gut flora abundance. They concluded that these short-chain fatty acids are closely related to pregnancy complications, and can be used as potential markers of pregnancy complications.
Going forward, the researchers would like to investigate lifestyle factors that could affect the microbiome, including diet type, geographical environment, lifestyle, and drug factors, to determine the correlation between various microbiomes and short-chain fatty acid levels.
“This is the first retrospective study that links short-chain fatty acids to the risks of three types of pregnancy complications,” said senior author Dr. Rongrong Xuan in a statement. “It lays a foundation for the prevention of pregnancy-related diseases in the future.”