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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 1/2018

Assessing the sensitivity of placental growth factor and soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase 1 at 36 weeks’ gestation to predict small-for-gestational-age infants or late-onset preeclampsia: a prospective nested case-control study

BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth > Ausgabe 1/2018
Teresa M. MacDonald, Chuong Tran, Tu’uhevaha J. Kaitu’u-Lino, Shaun P. Brennecke, Richard J. Hiscock, Lisa Hui, Kirsten M. Dane, Anna L. Middleton, Ping Cannon, Susan P. Walker, Stephen Tong
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12884-018-1992-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Fetal growth restriction is a disorder of placental dysfunction with three to four-fold increased risk of stillbirth. Fetal growth restriction has pathophysiological features in common with preeclampsia. We hypothesised that angiogenesis-related factors in maternal plasma, known to predict preeclampsia, may also detect fetal growth restriction at 36 weeks’ gestation. We therefore set out to determine the diagnostic performance of soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase 1 (sFlt-1), placental growth factor (PlGF), and the sFlt-1:PlGF ratio, measured at 36 weeks’ gestation, in identifying women who subsequently give birth to small-for-gestational-age (SGA; birthweight <10th centile) infants. We also aimed to validate the predictive performance of the analytes for late-onset preeclampsia in a large independent, prospective cohort.


A nested 1:2 case-control study was performed including 102 cases of SGA infants and a matched group of 207 controls; and 39 cases of preeclampsia. We determined the diagnostic performance of each angiogenesis-related factor, and of their ratio, to detect SGA infants or preeclampsia, for a predetermined 10% false positive rate.


Median plasma levels of PlGF at 36 weeks’ gestation were significantly lower in women who subsequently had SGA newborns (178.5 pg/ml) compared to normal birthweight controls (326.7 pg/ml, p < 0.0001). sFlt-1 was also higher among SGA cases, but this was not significant after women with concurrent preeclampsia were excluded. The sensitivity of PlGF to predict SGA infants was 28.8% for a 10% false positive rate. The sFlt-1:PlGF ratio demonstrated better sensitivity for preeclampsia than either analyte alone, detecting 69.2% of cases for a 10% false positive rate.


Plasma PlGF at 36 weeks’ gestation is significantly lower in women who subsequently deliver a SGA infant. While the sensitivity and specificity of PlGF currently limit clinical translation, our findings support a blood-based biomarker approach to detect late-onset fetal growth restriction. Thirty-six week sFlt-1:PlGF ratio predicts 69.2% of preeclampsia cases, and could be a useful screening test to triage antenatal surveillance.
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