The enzyme heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) is essential for the growth of blood vessels in the placenta and in establishing blood flow in the umbilical cord. Too little HO-1 can lead to a restriction in the growth of the fetus, pre-eclampsia or miscarriage. Now, a new study in the journal Medical Gas Research shows that low dose carbon monoxide therapy is able to restore placental function and prevent fetal death in mice - without any detrimental effects.
The new findings suggest that carbon monoxide can mimic the effects of HO-1. Researchers from the Otto-von-Guericke University in Germany tested carbon monoxide therapy on intrauterine growth restriction in mice. They found that an extended course of low dose (50ppm) carbon monoxide was able to reduce fetal loss from 30 percent to zero (all the babies survived).
"At the levels used to prevent fetal death we found that inhaled low dose carbon monoxide was anti-inflammatory. It reduced the amount of cell death, and increased levels of the anti-apoptotic molecule BAG-1, in the placenta and additionally increased the level of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which is associated with angiogenesis and blood vessel repair," explained lead researcher Ana Claudia Zenclussen.
The researchers suggest carbon monoxide therapy may provide a lifeline to mothers at risk, but they warn that the correct dosage is critical, as higher doses of carbon monoxide were damaging to the fetus and too low a dose was not enough to prevent fetal death.
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Source: BioMed Central