Calcium supplementation prevents endothelial cell activation: possible relevance to preeclampsia

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Preeclampsia is a leading cause of maternal and fetal mortality and morbidity. A hallmark of preeclampsia is endothelial cell dysfunction/activation in response to ‘toxins’ from the placenta. Necrotic trophoblastic debris (NTD) is one possible placental toxin and other activators of endothelial cells include inflammatory cytokines. Calcium supplementation appears to protect ‘at-risk’ women from developing preeclampsia but how is unclear.


Placental explants were cultured with interleukin-6 (IL-6) in varied concentrations of calcium. The resultant trophoblastic debris was exposed to endothelial cells. Endothelial cells were exposed to activators including NTD, IL-6, and preeclamptic sera in the presence of varied concentrations of calcium and activation monitored by quantifying cell surface markers by ELISA.


Raising the levels of calcium did not prevent the IL-6-induced shedding of NTD from placental explants but did prevent the activation of endothelial cells in response to IL-6, preeclamptic sera, or NTD. Reducing the level of calcium directly induced the activation of endothelial cells. Inhibiting nitric oxide synthetase ablated the ability of high calcium levels to protect endothelial cell activation. The activity of endothelial cell nitric oxide synthetase was blocked with L-NG-nitroarginine methyl ester.


Our results demonstrate calcium levels do not affect the shedding of trophoblastic debris but are important to endothelial cell activation and supplemental calcium may reverse the activation of the endothelium in preeclamptic women. These results may in part explain the benefits of calcium supplementation in the reduction of risk for developing preeclampsia and provide in-vitro mechanistic support for the use of calcium supplementation in at-risk women.

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