BACKGROUND Thrombotic disease is rare but significant in women of reproductive age.
Thrombosis and thromboembolism are the most common causes of maternal death in the
United Kingdom. Pre-eclampsia is associated with increase in immediate and lifetime risk of
adverse thrombotic events. Both pregnancy and the follicular phase are associated with
arterial thrombosis and myocardial infarction. Modulation of haemostatic mechanisms in
reproductive physiology and disease is not well understood. Outwith pregnancy, stimulated
tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) release, platelet activation, arterial stiffness and
circulating endothelial progenitor cell (EPC) number are established indicators of vascular
pathology and prognosis.
AIMS (i) To compare endogenous fibrinolysis between pregnant women and non-pregnant
control women, (ii) To make serial measurements of reproductive hormones, inflammatory
mediators, platelet and monocyte activation, arterial stiffness and circulating EPCs
throughout the normal menstrual cycle, healthy pregnancy, and pregnancy affected by pre-eclampsia.
METHODS (i) Endogenous fibrinolytic capacity was assessed using forearm venous sampling
and plethysmography during intra-arterial infusion of bradykinin (a known stimulant of
endothelial t-PA release). Healthy women in the third trimester were recruited from antenatal
clinics. Healthy volunteers were studied in their follicular phase, (ii) Platelet-monocyte
aggregates and surface markers of platelet and monocyte activation were assessed with flow
cytometry. Reproductive hormones, inflammatory mediators (soluble intercellular adhesion
molelcule-l (ICAM-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a)) and
soluble markers of platelet activation were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent
assay (ELISA). Arterial stiffness was derived using pulse wave analysis (PWA) and pulse
wave velocity (PWV). Circulating EPCs were assessed by flow cytometry and cell culture.
All measurements were taken longitudinally in three different populations: healthy women
during a single menstrual cycle (4 time points), healthy pregnant women (4 time points and
post-partum) and women with pre-eclampsia (at diagnosis and post-partum).
RESULTS (i) Pregnant women had more plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1)
antigen and lower active t-PA plasma concentrations than non-pregnant women,
(ii) Pregnant women had greater platelet and monocyte activation, plasma soluble ICAM-1
and IL-6 than non-pregnant women. There was no difference in platelet activation or
inflammatory mediators between healthy and pre-eclamptic pregnant women. Systemic
arterial stiffness varies during the menstrual cycle. In pregnancy both systemic and central
arterial stiffness are lowest during the second trimester. Arterial stiffness was greater in pre¬
eclampsia and this persisted post-partum, despite blood pressure returning to normal.
Concentration of EPCs (cytometry) varied during the menstrual cycle and was greatest in the
follicular phase. Endothelial progenitor cell colony formation was reduced in healthy
pregnancy compared to the follicular phase. There was no difference in either EPC assay
between healthy and pre-eclamptic pregnant women.
CONCLUSIONS Important constituents of thrombotic and inflammatory activity are observed
to vary with normal changes in reproductive status. No difference was observed in these
factors between healthy pregnant and pre-eclamptic women. Greater arterial stiffness was
observed in pre-eclamptic women, also continuing after pregnancy. This may contribute to
the increased immediate and lifetime risk of vascular disease in these women. Variation in
circulating EPCs during the menstrual cycle may be due to a role in endometrial