GDF15 linked to maternal risk of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy

M Fejzo, N Rocha, I Cimino, S M Lockhart, C J Petry, R G Kay, K Burling, P Barker, A L George, N Yasara, A Premawardhena, S Gong, E Cook, D Rimmington, K Rainbow, D J Withers, V Cortessis, P M Mullin, K W MacGibbon, E JinA Kam, A Campbell, O Polasek, G Tzoneva, F M Gribble, G S H Yeo, B Y H Lam, V Saudek, I A Hughes, K K Ong, J R B Perry, A Sutton Cole, M Baumgarten, P Welsh, N Sattar, G C S Smith, D S Charnock-Jones, A P Coll, C L Meek, S Mettananda, C Hayward, N Mancuso, S O'Rahilly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

GDF15, a hormone acting on the brainstem, has been implicated in the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP) including its most severe form, Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), but a full mechanistic understanding is lacking [1-4]. Here we report that fetal production of GDF15, and maternal sensitivity to it, both contribute substantially to the risk of HG. We confirmed that higher GDF15 levels in maternal blood are associated with vomiting in pregnancy and HG. Using mass spectrometry to detect a naturally-labelled GDF15 variant we demonstrate that the vast majority of GDF15 in the maternal plasma is derived from the feto-placental unit. By studying carriers of rare and common genetic variants we found that low levels of GDF15 in the non-pregnant state increase the risk of developing HG. Conversely, women with beta-thalassemia, a condition where GDF15 levels are chronically high [5], report very low levels of NVP. In mice, the acute food intake response to a bolus of GDF15 is influenced bi-directionally by prior levels of circulating GDF15 in a manner suggesting that this system is susceptible to desensitization. Our findings support a putative causal role for fetally-derived GDF15 in the nausea and vomiting of human pregnancy, with maternal sensitivity, at least partly determined by pre-pregnancy exposure to the hormone, being a major influence on its severity. They also suggest mechanism-based approaches to the treatment and prevention of HG.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date13 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Dec 2023


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