Pregnancy is a unique physiological state involving biological stresses that promote protein damage (misfolding) within the maternal body.

Research out of Australia and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS), delves into the way the maternal body copes with elevated protein misfolding – a process connected to preeclampsia, a serious childbirth complication.

Research leader Dr Amy Wyatt from Flinders University said the so-called pregnancy zone protein (PZP) stabilises misfolded proteins and prevents them from forming plaques, which are associated with the majority of common disorders in old age.

“In this study, we show that PZP efficiently inhibits the aggregation of misfolded proteins including the amyloid beta peptide, which forms plaques in the placenta in preeclampsia and in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

“This is the first evidence of a major maternal adaptation that allows mothers to withstand elevated levels of protein misfolding in pregnancy.

“Failure of this system potentially triggers the accumulation of misfolded proteins in preeclampsia, and could also have relevance to some age-related protein misfolding disorders.”

Dr Wyatt said a better understanding of how mothers normally dealt with protein misfolding in pregnancy had the potential to inform the development of novel therapeutic strategies for some of the most common and debilitating disorders of ageing.

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