The second leading cause of hospitalization during pregnancy for expecting mothers is a severe form of normal morning sickness that is now linked to two genes. From the University of California - Los Angeles, researchers hope to develop new treatments for the condition, called hyperemesis gravidarum.
Something a little bit more than normal morning sickness during pregnancy involves severe nausea and vomiting affecting two percent of pregnant women. The cause of hyperemesis gravidarum was unknown before the present study, which identified two genes involved in the condition.
Hyperemesis gravidarum can cause significant and quick weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration. In the worst cases, the condition can even result in a loss of pregnancy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is treated with dietary changes, rest, and antacids, but the most serious cases may require hospitalization for IV fluid and nutrition. Symptoms usually occur between four and six weeks of pregnancy and peak between nine and 13 weeks.
In their study, researchers compared variation in DNA from pregnant women with no nausea and vomiting to those with hyperemesis gravidarum. This led them to the identification of two genes, GDF15 and IGFBP7, which were then confirmed in an independent study of women, all participants of which had hyperemesis gravidarum.
Both GDF15 and IGFBP7 are involved in the development of the placenta, early pregnancy, and appetite regulation. In the past researchers instead believed pregnancy hormones like estrogen to be the cause of hyperemesis gravidarum.
The two genes are also linked to a metabolic disorder called cachexia that affects millions of people worldwide. Cachexia is a weight loss and muscle wasting condition that increases the risk of complications like infections, leading to death in 20 percent of cancer patients. Cachexia and hyperemesis gravidarum share many of the same symptoms.
Can genetic expression of GDF15 and IGFBP7 be altered to treat hyperemesis gravidarum? Researchers hope to answer this question going forward. "It is my hope that one day a medication that affects this pathway will be used to successfully treat and possibly cure hyperemesis gravidarum,” said first author Marlena Fejzo, who lost a pregnancy to this disease.
The present study was published in the journal Nature Communications.