The aim of the present study was to determine the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)family receptors (VEGFR) in placentas from pregnancies complicated by hypertensive disorders of different clinical severity. Placental tissue from women with gestational hypertension, pre-eclampsia, pre-eclampsia with haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets (HELLP syndrome) and normotensive women, as a control group,was examined. Immunohistochemical techniques, reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction and western blot were used to evaluate receptor expression. In cases with gestational hypertension, as well as in control cases, VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-3 immunoreactivity was detected in all placental components, whereas in placentas from the pre-eclampsia and pre-eclampsia with HELLP syndrome groups, VEGFR-1 and VEGFR-3 immunoreactivity was detected only in some portions of trophoblast and/or some vessels and/or clusters of stromal cells. In the control group, VEGFR-2 immunoreactivity was observed only in the vessels, whereas the hypertensive groups showed VEGF-2 immunoreactivity also in trophoblast and stromal cells. The mRNA levels of the three receptors in the group with gestational hypertension were higher with respect to those in the control group. Placentas from pregnancies with pre-eclampsia showed lowest mRNA expression levels, whereas placentas from women with pre-eclampsia plus HELLP syndrome showed higher mRNA expression levels with respect to the three other groups. Receptor protein levels were lower in pathological cases compared with levles in the control group. These findings demonstrate a dysregulation of placental expression of VEGF family receptors related to the degree of clinical severity of the hypertensive disorder.
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