Original Research Obstetrics|Articles in Press

First-trimester preterm preeclampsia prediction with metabolite biomarkers: differential prediction according to maternal body mass index

Published:December 17, 2022DOI:


      Prediction of preeclampsia risk is key to informing effective maternal care. Current screening for preeclampsia at 11 to 13 weeks of gestation using maternal demographic characteristics and medical history with measurements of mean arterial pressure, uterine artery pulsatility index, and serum placental growth factor can identify approximately 75% of women who develop preterm preeclampsia with delivery at <37 weeks of gestation. Further improvements to preeclampsia screening tests will likely require integrating additional biomarkers. Recent research suggests the existence of distinct maternal risk profiles. Therefore, biomarker evaluation should account for the possibility that a biomarker only predicts preeclampsia in a specific maternal phenotype.


      This study aimed to verify metabolite biomarkers as preterm preeclampsia predictors early in pregnancy in all women and across body mass index groups.

      Study Design

      Observational case-control study drawn from a large prospective study on the early prediction of pregnancy complications in women attending their routine first hospital visit at King’s College Hospital, London, United Kingdom, in 2010 to 2015. Pregnant women underwent a complete first-trimester assessment, including the collection of blood samples for biobanking. In 11- to 13-week plasma samples of 2501 singleton pregnancies, the levels of preselected metabolites implicated in the prediction of pregnancy complications were analyzed using a targeted liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry method, yielding high-quality quantification data on 50 metabolites. The ratios of amino acid levels involved in arginine biosynthesis and nitric oxide synthase pathways were added to the list of biomarkers. Placental growth factor and pregnancy-associated plasma protein A were also available for all study subjects, serving as comparator risk predictors. Data on 1635 control and 106 pregnancies complicated by preterm preeclampsia were considered for this analysis, normalized using multiples of medians. Prediction analyses were performed across the following patient strata: all subjects and the body mass index classes of <25, 25 to <30, and ≥30 kg/m2. Adjusted median levels were compared between cases and controls and between each body mass index class group. Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated at the mean ±1 standard deviation to gauge clinical prediction merits.


      The levels of 13 metabolites were associated with preterm preeclampsia in the entire study population (P<.05) with particularly significant (P<.01) associations found for 6 of them, namely, 2-hydroxy-(2/3)-methylbutyric acid, 25-hydroxyvitamin D3, 2-hydroxybutyric acid, alanine, dodecanoylcarnitine, and 1-(1Z-octadecenyl)-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine. Fold changes in 7 amino acid ratios, all involving glutamine or ornithine, were also significantly different between cases and controls (P<.01). The predictive performance of some metabolites and ratios differed according to body mass index classification; for example, ornithine (P<.001) and several ornithine-related ratios (P<.0001 to P<.01) were only strongly associated with preterm preeclampsia in the body mass index of <25 kg/m2 group, whereas dodecanoylcarnitine and 3 glutamine ratios were particularly predictive in the body mass index of ≥30 kg/m2 group (P<.01).


      Single metabolites and ratios of amino acids related to arginine bioavailability and nitric oxide synthase pathways were associated with preterm preeclampsia risk at 11 to 13 weeks of gestation. Differential prediction was observed according to body mass index classes, supporting the existence of distinct maternal risk profiles. Future studies in preeclampsia prediction should account for the possibility of different maternal risk profiles to improve etiologic and prognostic understanding and, ultimately, clinical utility of screening tests.

      Key words

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