Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Marilyn J. Cipolla


Eclampsia is defined as de novo seizure in a woman with the hypertensive complication of pregnancy known as preeclampsia (PE), and is a leading cause of maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality worldwide. The pathogenesis of eclamptic seizure remains unknown, but is considered a form of hypertensive encephalopathy where an acute rise in blood pressure causes loss of cerebral blood flow (CBF) autoregulation and hyperperfusion of the brain that results in vasogenic edema formation and subsequent seizure. However, eclamptic seizure can occur during seemingly uncomplicated pregnancies, in the absence of hypertension and PE, suggesting that normal pregnancy may predispose the brain to hypertensive encephalopathy or seizure, independently of PE. The overall goal of this dissertation was to investigate the effect of pregnancy and PE on the cerebrovasculature and neurophysiological properties that may promote brain injury and eclamptic seizure. For this dissertation project, a rat model of PE was established that combined placental ischemia, induced by restricting blood flow to the uteroplacental unit, and maternal endothelial dysfunction that was induced by a prolonged high cholesterol diet. Rats with PE developed several PE-like symptoms, including elevated blood pressure, fetal growth restriction, placental dysfunction, and were in a state of oxidative stress and endothelial dysfunction. We found that pregnancy had an overall protective effect on the maintenance of CBF that was potentially due to a nitric-oxide dependent enhancement of the vasodilation of cerebral arteries to decreased intravascular pressure. Further, maintenance of CBF during acute hypertension was similar in pregnancy and PE. Thus, it does not appear that pregnancy and PE are states during which CBF autoregulation is compromised in a manner that would promote the development of hypertensive encephalopathy. However, the brain was found to be in a hyperexcitable state during normal pregnancy that was augmented in PE, and could contribute to onset of eclamptic seizure. Under chloral hydrate anesthesia, generalized seizure was induced by timed infusion of the convulsant pentylenetetrazole (PTZ), with simultaneous electroencephalography that was stopped at the first onset of spikewave discharge indicative of electrical seizure. Seizure threshold was determined as the amount of PTZ required to elicit seizure. Compared to the nonpregnant state, seizure threshold was ~44% lower in pregnant rats and ~80% lower in rats with PE. Further, pregnant rats were more susceptible to seizure-induced vasogenic edema formation than the nonpregnant state. Mechanisms by which pregnancy and PE lowered seizure threshold appeared to be through pregnancy-associated decreases in cortical gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptor (GABAAR) subunits and PE-induced disruption of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and microglial activation, indicative of neuroinflammation. Magnesium sulfate (MgSO4), the leading treatment for seizure prophylaxis in women with PE, restored seizure threshold to control levels by reversing neuroinflammation in PE rats, without affecting BBB permeability. Overall, this dissertation provides evidence that pregnancy increases susceptibility of the brain to seizure and vasogenic edema formation that likely contribute to the onset of eclampsia during seemingly uncomplicated pregnancies. Further, the pathogenesis of eclampsia during PE likely involves breakdown of the BBB and subsequent neuroinflammation, resulting in a state of greater seizure susceptibility that is ameliorated by MgSO4 treatment.



Number of Pages

260 p.

Included in

Neurosciences Commons