A special protein which helps protect women during pregnancy also unlocks clues to treat or even prevent age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s and arthritis.
That's what a research paper led by University of Wollongong and Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute PhD student Jordan Cater has found.
Mr Carter was part of an international research team which found that a powerful protein from the blood of pregnant woman, known as pregnancy zone protein (PZP), inhibits the aggregation of misfolded proteins, including those associated with preeclampsia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Women with preeclampsia develop high blood pressure, raised protein in their urine and other conditions which can increase risks at childbirth.
Protein damage (also known as misfolding) also underlies a large number of age-related disorders, including Alzheimer’s and arthritis.
"We have known for a long time that it is bad for the body to accumulate damaged proteins. Therefore we predicted that in healthy pregnancy, mothers somehow adapt to cope with protein damage in a unique way," Mr Carter said.
These are very exciting findings.UOW and Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute PhD student Jordan Cater
"Our investigation revealed that PZP can bind to and stabilise misfolded proteins and subsequently prevent their aggregation.
"We were surprised by how potent the activity of PZP is in this regard when compared to other similar proteins. These are very exciting findings."
Both of Mr Cater’s supervisors, UOW molecular biologist Professor Marie Ranson and Flinders University medical biochemistry researcher Dr Amy Wyatt, were co-authors of the paper - which is published in high-profile journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS).
"This is the first evidence of a major maternal adaptation that allows mothers to withstand elevated levels of protein misfolding in pregnancy," Dr Wyatt said.
"Failure of this system potentially triggers the accumulation of misfolded proteins in preeclampisa, and could also have relevance to some age-related protein misfolding disorders."
Mr Carter said better understanding of how mothers normally deal with protein misfolding in pregnancy is an exciting new frontier that has the potential to inform the development of new therapies and diagnostic strategies for some of the most common and debilitating disorders of ageing – as well as for preeclampsia.
"Our future work will focus on further characterisation of the activities of PZP, including investigation of the potentially protective role of PZP in human diseases including preeclampsia and Alzheimer’s disease," he added.