Maternal and Fetal Platelet Activation in Normal Pregnancy

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To study the platelet activation phase in normal pregnant women and their fetuses, both in vivo under basal conditions and in vitro after stimulation by adenosine diphosphate (ADP), a weak agonist, and U46619, a strong one.


Platelet function was investigated in 39 normal pregnant women and their fetuses undergoing fetal blood sampling at 18-37 weeks' gestation, using flow cytometry and the anti-GMP140 monoclonal antibody. This combined technique allows platelets to be investigated in small aliquots of whole blood, and it detects platelet secretion regardless of aggregation. In all cases, the percentage of activated platelets was determined under basal conditions and after addition of platelet agonists: ADP at concentrations of 10 and 50 µmol/L, and U46619, a stable analogue of thromboxane A2, at 1 µmol/L.


Compared to nonpregnant controls, pregnant women had a significantly lower percentage of activated platelets after addition of U46619 (P = .02). Compared to their mothers, fetuses had significantly inferior platelet activation after addition of both platelet-activating factors at all concentrations used (ADP 10 µmol/L, P < .0001 and ADP 50 µmol/L, P < .0001; U46619, P < .0001). Maternal and fetal platelet activation did not change with duration of gestation. In the fetus, the percentage of activated platelets did not correlate with hematocrit, pH, or oxygen pressure, but it correlated significantly with platelet count after addition of U46619 (r = 0.45, P = .006).


Decreased platelet activation in both pregnant women and fetuses suggests the action of a plasma factor that selectively inhibits prostaglandin-dependent activation. Prostacyclin, which is known to decrease platelet aggregation and release reactions caused by agonists, might have a greater inhibitory effect in the fetus than in the mother, or be present in larger amounts in the fetus.

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