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Work in this area in Oxford aims to understand how changes at the cellular level are related to the initiation and development of cardiovascular diseases.

An example of this work is the study led by University of Oxford researchers which found that a particular chemical pathway in cells lining blood vessels is critical for the blood vessel ‘remodelling’ between the uterus and the placenta.

Such remodelling is essential for normal pregnancy, as it provides enough blood flow through the placenta to make sure that the developing foetus grows normally. If this remodelling does not happen properly, the mother can develop high blood pressure, and the baby can be born too small. Both these factors have long term effects in both the mother and the baby.

Surawee Chuaiphichai and his colleague studied the cellular factors involved in this process in mice. They found that when the cells lining blood vessels didn’t produce a chemical called BH4, pregnant mice had high blood pressure, and the growth of the developing foetus was restricted. The arteries in the placenta were also abnormal.

The team subsequently found that the same chemical was also reduced in human tissue samples from mothers who had high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Crucially, supplementing the mice’s diet with methylfolate reversed the effects of the missing BH4, reducing blood pressure and normalising foetal growth. Potentially, restoring folate levels for this critical pathway in blood vessel cells might help pregnant women with high blood pressure and placental insufficiency, and help prevent preeclampsia.

Read the full paper.
Endothelial GTPCH (GTP Cyclohydrolase 1) and Tetrahydrobiopterin Regulate Gestational Blood Pressure, Uteroplacental Remodeling, and Fetal Growth. Chuaiphichai,S. et al, (2021) Hypertension 2021,78: 1871-1884