Parent-Offspring Conflict and the Persistence of Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension in Modern Humans

Hollegaard, Birgitte; Byars, Sean G.; Lykke, Jacob; Boomsma, Jacobus J.
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Preeclampsia is a major cause of perinatal mortality and disease affecting 5–10% of all pregnancies worldwide, but its etiology remains poorly understood despite considerable research effort. Parent-offspring conflict theory suggests that such hypertensive disorders of pregnancy may have evolved through the ability of fetal genes to increase maternal blood pressure as this enhances general nutrient supply. However, such mechanisms for inducing hypertension in pregnancy would need to incur sufficient offspring health benefits to compensate for the obvious risks for maternal and fetal health towards the end of pregnancy in order to explain why these disorders have not been removed by natural selection in our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We analyzed >750,000 live births in the Danish National Patient Registry and all registered medical diagnoses for up to 30 years after birth. We show that offspring exposed to pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) in trimester 1 had significantly reduced overall later-life disease risks, but increased risks when PIH exposure started or developed as preeclampsia in later trimesters. Similar patterns were found for first-year mortality. These results suggest that early PIH leading to improved postpartum survival and health represents a balanced compromise between the reproductive interests of parents and offspring, whereas later onset of PIH may reflect an unbalanced parent-offspring conflict at the detriment of maternal and offspring health.


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