A new study suggests vitamin D may reverse impaired cell interactions in the blood vessels that occur in preeclampsia—a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure. The finding is published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology—Cell Physiology.
Preeclampsia can threaten the life and future health of both a pregnant person and their offspring. Damage to the maternal endothelium—the lining of the blood vessels—is a feature of the condition, reflected by a reduced number of specialized cells (endothelial progenitor cells, or EPCs) that circulate in the blood and help with the repair of the endothelium. Dysfunction of fetal umbilical vein endothelial cells and fetal EPCs may also occur in preeclamptic pregnancies. Umbilical vein endothelial cell samples—taken immediately after delivery of the baby—are often used to study the regulation of endothelial cell function.
Vitamin D plays a role in regulating the cardiovascular system. Previous studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D have been linked to the development of preeclampsia, which is classified as a cardiovascular disease. Researchers from Hannover Medical School in Germany and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Magee-Womens Research Institute studied the effects of vitamin D on the interaction between EPCs and umbilical cord endothelial cells—which facilitate endothelial repair—in women with preeclampsia.
They found the EPCs and umbilical vein cells did not integrate and communicate as well with each other as when they were exposed to endothelial cells from healthy pregnancies. However, when the EPCs and umbilical vein cells were treated with vitamin D, these impaired interactions were reversed. “We found a stimulating effect of vitamin D on cell-cell interactions that may be important for endothelial homeostasis and repair,” the researchers wrote.
“Even though vitamin D deficiency is only one risk factor for [preeclampsia], sufficient vitamin D status at conception and throughout pregnancy might improve maternal and offspring vascular health in pregnancy and thereafter. Whether the observed cellular changes persist in the neonatal period and childhood and are a possible early marker of an increased cardiovascular risk of the progeny of [preeclamptic] pregnancies has to be investigated by further studies,” the researchers wrote.