It's common among pregnant women to find themselves bent over a toilet vomiting unstoppably while having a searing headache on top of it. This phenomenon is called morning sickness, and a new study may have just identified its genetic roots.
Genes GDF15 and IGFBP7, which are involved in placenta development and play a role in appetite regulation, may be associated with increasing the risk of hyperemesis gravidarum, which is just the fancy term for morning sickness. According to obstetrics researcher Marlena Fejzo who led the study:
"Having the DNA variation we identified [in these genes] does appear to increase risk for hyperemesis gravidarum."
Fejzo herself was plagued by the phenomenon during two of her pregnancies, and because there was also little information about it at the time, she decided to partner with Hyperemesis Education and Research to talk to women who suffered from the same condition. So, what were the results? If a pregnant woman suffers from it, her sister would likely suffer from it, too if she were pregnant — there was a genetic component, simply put.
Then she gathered samples of saliva taken from sufferers of hyperemesis gravidarum and also from pregnant women who didn't have it. Then she worked with genetics firm 23andMe to perform genome scans to validate her study. It ultimately led her to discover that GDF15 and IGFBP7 carry associations to the condition.
The results of her study have now been published in Nature Communications, where in the abstract she notes that while the roots of hyperemesis gravidarum remains largely a mystery, "familial aggregation and results of twin studies suggest that understanding the genetic contribution is essential for comprehending the disease etiology."
She also notes that her discoveries require further study.
"While proving the casual roles of GDF15 and IGFBP7 in nausea and vomiting of pregnancy requires further study, this [genome-wide association study] provides insights into the genetic risk factors contributing to the disease."
Possible Treatments For Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Researchers already know quite a few about genes GDF15 and IGFBP7, in that they are both associated with cachexia, a condition whose symptoms include muscle wasting and loss of appetite, which are also symptoms found in patients with hyperemesis gravidarum.
Fejzo hopes her study leads to the development of therapies to aid pregnant women suffering from the awful condition.
"I am very hopeful that our findings will lead to novel therapies to treat hyperemesis gravidarum, if they are safe in pregnancy."