Up to 20 percent of pregnant women may experience preeclampsia, a dangerous precursor to eclampsia, which brings on fatal seizures. Because the most common treatment for preeclampsia is early delivery--which can put both mother and baby at risk--researchers are eager to discover the cause of the disease and develop new treatments. To that end, findings published online this week by the journal Nature Genetics, could help. Scientists report the discovery of a gene associated with susceptibility to preeclampsia.

Marie van Dijk of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam and her colleagues studied 24 families in which two or more sisters had suffered from preeclampsia. After performing a genetic analysis, the researchers determined that mothers-to-be afflicted with the condition exhibited the same variant of a gene called STOX1. Each woman had inherited the variant from her mother and only this maternal copy was expressed in the placenta when preeclampsia arose. The authors suggest that a malfunction of this gene in the placenta could be responsible for the disease.